Britain and the European Union may be unable to resolve the future of the Border before they agree a deal on their future relationship in October, Brexit secretary David Davis has said.
Mr Davis told the House of Lords EU committee that the viability of the first of three options for the Border outlined in last December’s joint report depended on whether Britain and the EU would have a comprehensive free trade agreement.
“If we have a tariff-free free trade agreement and a light-touch customs agreement that makes Northern Ireland simpler than if we don’t have those things. So it’s all three we want, because truth be told I would consider it not a success if we were falling back on option C,” he said, referring to the so-called “backstop” that would see Northern Ireland remain in regulatory alignment with the EU after Brexit.
"I can see why the Irish Government wants it as a guarantee, but we have to have all three. Now ,whether we can do all that by June, I'm not at all sure. But we are certainly aiming to complete it by October."
Mr Davis admitted that the EU had "pushed back" on the British government's two proposals for a future customs relationship, confirming a report in the Daily Telegraph last month.
He said EU negotiators did not understand how a “customs partnership” would work, with Britain collecting tariffs on behalf of the EU, and feared that the other proposal could encourage smuggling.
Mr Davis will join other senior ministers on Wednesday for a meeting of the cabinet's Brexit sub-committee that will focus on options for a customs relationship. Brexiteers want Theresa May to take the "customs partnership" off the table because they fear it is unworkable and could lead to Britain remaining indefinitely in the customs union.
International trade secretary Liam Fox said on Tuesday that remaining in the customs union after Brexit would be worse than remaining in the EU itself.
“If we were in a customs union with the European Union we would have to accept what the EU negotiated in terms of market access to the UK without the UK having a voice. That’s worse than the position in which we found ourselves today in the European Union. I don’t think there is a customs union that could ever be acceptable,” he told the BBC.
Downing Street said the government would offer a “robust” response to a House of Lords vote to give MPs the power to stop Britain from leaving the EU without a deal, and to order the prime minister back to the negotiating table if they do not like the deal she secures.
The Daily Mail on Tuesday described the Lords as a "house of unelected wreckers", accusing pro-European peers of acting "in cahoots with Brussels" as they sought to derail Brexit.
In the House of Commons on Tuesday, a Conservative MP accused the founder of the pro-Brexit Legatum Institute of being a Russian agent. Bob Seely used parliamentary privilege to quote from Monaco security files that identified Christopher Chandler, a New Zealand-born billionaire, as an object of interest.
“According to the French security services as recorded by their colleagues in Monaco, and clearly I am confident that these documents are genuine, Mr Chandler is described as having been ‘an object of interest to the DST since 2002 on suspicion of working for the Russian intelligence services’,” Mr Seely said.