Britain will take no steps to harden the Border after it leaves the European Union, even if it crashes out without a deal, a Brexit minister has told MPs. Robin Walker told the Northern Ireland affairs committee at Westminster that, regardless of the outcome of negotiations with the EU, Britain would add no new physical infrastructure to the Border.
“The UK would not under any circumstances want to be taking steps to harden that Border and interrupt people’s daily lives,” he said. “So we will make sure that we will do everything in our power so people can go on with our daily lives and that our commitments under the Belfast Agreement are met. And whatever contingency planning the government undertakes will absolutely have those principles in mind.”
Mr Walker, who is a parliamentary undersecretary of state at the department for exiting the European Union, said he was confident that the two sides could make sufficient progress on the Border by December for Brexit talks to move on to the future relationship between Britain and the EU. And he defended the Irish Government’s role in the talks in the face of criticism from a number of committee members.
"I think the Irish Government has made a very useful case to other members of the European Union and to the European institutions that this is a hugely important issue to address, as a result partly of the peace process. And I don't think that has been harmful in any way. That's been a positive thing to see reflected from the European side."
Make future talks “long and painful”
The Labour MP Kate Hoey and Jim Shannon and Ian Paisley of the DUP were sharply critical of the Government's demand for more detail on how Britain would avoid a hard Border after Brexit. Mr Paisley said Britain should punish Ireland by making future bilateral talks about fishing waters long and painful.
“I think our neighbour has acted disgracefully. They are supposed to be our partner. As a nation her majesty’s government since 2016 has given them billions of money, interest free, to bail them out of economic ruin and bankruptcy. Of course that money has been paid back – but paid back at a very generous rate,” he said.
“If her majesty’s government isn’t for diplomatic reasons prepared to say it publicly, I hope you are starting to shake their cage internally and privately in these negotiations. A lot of people are really exasperated with the amateurishness of the Irish Government.”
A number of MPs on Wednesday criticised the British government for reportedly agreeing to pay about €50 billion to the EU as it leaves. The Conservative backbencher Jacob Rees-Mogg said London seemed “in these negotiations to be dancing to the tune of the European Commission”.
The Labour MP Dennis Skinner, who also backed Brexit, said that "if the government have £60 billion to spare, it should go to the National Health Service and social care". The government declined to confirm reports that Britain and the EU had reached agreement on the divorce bill, describing them as speculation.