‘No deal’ Brexit will mean Border checks, Bradley tells NI firms

Northern Secretary dismisses unionist claims that draft deal is a threat to ‘integrity’ of UK

Northern  Secretary Karen Bradley speaking to business leaders during an event at Belfast Metropolitan College. ‘This is the best deal for the United Kingdom.’  Photograph: Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA Wire

Northern Secretary Karen Bradley speaking to business leaders during an event at Belfast Metropolitan College. ‘This is the best deal for the United Kingdom.’ Photograph: Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA Wire

 

Northern Secretary Karen Bradley has urged her fellow MPs to “put the national interest first” and sign up to the draft Brexit deal agreed last week between the British government and the EU.

She also suggested that failure to accept the deal would result in a hard border between the North and the South. If World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules applied in the event of no deal then there would have to be border checks, she told a conference of more than 70 leading Northern Ireland business people on Monday.

Despite continuing opposition to the draft withdrawal agreement from the DUP particularly, but also from the Ulster Unionist Party, Ms Bradley continued her offensive to gain business and public support for the deal.

As the DUP continued to warn that the draft deal was a threat to Northern Ireland’s union with Britain, Ms Bradley told business leaders no such threat existed.

“The agreement preserves the economic and constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom, upholds the Belfast Agreement, and ensures people and businesses that rely on an open border between Northern Ireland and Ireland can continue living their lives and operating as they do now,” she said in her speech.

Ms Bradley, when speaking at the Belfast Met College in the city’s Titanic Quarter, made no direct reference to the DUP – “I am not singling any party out,” she said – but insisted that “compromises have to be made, accommodations have to be made”.

She urged MPs who will be voting on the deal in the coming week to put the UK’s “national interest” first.

“I am not here to speak for any political party,” she told reporters after her speech which was endorsed by business people from the Confederation of British Industry NI, the NI Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Institute of Directors, and the NI Federation of Small Business.

“I am here to speak for the UK government and the UK government position is that this is a good deal for the United Kingdom and my message for politicians is: Think of the national interests. This is perhaps the most difficult vote you ever have to make as MP but put the national interest first.”

“This is the best deal for the United Kingdom even with the difficult accommodations we had to reach. Therefore I say to all politicians across the United Kingdom get behind the deal,” she added.

Ms Bradley said the “clear” message she heard from the Northern business leaders was: “they want to see us reaching a deal with the EU that allows a future trading relationship that is good for the UK”.

“The country voted to leave the EU, the only way we are going to leave the European Union with a deal is through this deal,” she added.

Ms Bradley said London wanted to avoid a hard border but if there were no deal then WTO rules would apply, and these rules were very clear.

She said that under such rules there “has to be a requirement that checks are carried out, that tariffs are paid, that customs declarations have to be completed” and how that was achieved would be a matter for the British government to negotiate and consider.

“But the fact is – the WTO is very clear – if there are two different separate customs territories checks have to be able to be carried out on a contemporaneous basis on consignments passing between the two customs territories.

“We don’t want to see physical infrastructures on the border and we will try to facilitate that any way we can but the WTO rules are clear, tariffs will apply, checks will be required, that is what the WTO says.”

‘Back from the brink’

Business leaders at the conference expressed support for the draft deal with Angela McGowan, director of CBI NI, saying the deal brought business “back from the brink of a no deal”.

“This at the moment is the only show in town. It is the only thing that is on the table, there is no alternative out there, and we need to take this and make the most of it,” she said.

Several speakers disputed claims by senior DUP politicians that business leaders did not understand the constitutional threat inherent in the deal.

Ms McGowan said: “My members don’t see this as any threat to their Britishness or their nationalities, and don’t see it as a threat to the constitution.

“Nothing in the deal undermines the constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom,” said Trevor Lockhart, chairman of CBI NI.

Tina McKenzie, head of the North’s Federation of Small Business said Northern Ireland could not afford the disruption of a no deal: “We are fully aware of what a hard Brexit would do to our economy.”

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