House of Lords backs move to prevent hard border

Peers inflict 10th Brexit defeat on Theresa May’s government by voting for amendment

Former first minister of Northern Ireland David Trimble:   said Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney had damaged relations between Dublin and London. Photograph: Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images

Former first minister of Northern Ireland David Trimble: said Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney had damaged relations between Dublin and London. Photograph: Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images

 

Britain’s House of Lords has backed a move to prevent a hard border after Brexit under which no new checks or controls could be imposed without the agreement of the Irish Government.

Peers voted by 309 to 242 in favour of the amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill, which was proposed by former Conservative minister and EU commissioner Chris Patten.

It says Brexit must not diminish any form of North-South co-operation or create or facilitate Border arrangements featuring any new infrastructure, checks or controls without an agreement between London and Dublin. Lord Patten said the amendment reflected prime minister Theresa May’s stated policy, which was under pressure from hardline Brexiteers, and he rejected the charge that raising fears about a hard border was playing with fire.

Blundering

“I will tell you what I think playing with fire is: blundering into the politics of Northern Ireland with a policy which is sometimes clueless and sometimes delinquent with a can of petrol in one hand and a box of matches in the other. That is playing with fire. That is what we are in danger of doing,” he said.

Former first minister David Trimble was one of a number of former unionist politicians to speak against the amendment, suggesting that Brussels and Dublin were seeking to change the way Northern Ireland was governed.

“The drive is there to get Northern Ireland into a special situation: linked permanently to the European Union and with the union with the rest of the United Kingdom to that extent weakened,” he said.

Damaged

Lord Trimble said Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney had damaged relations between Dublin and London, which had improved dramatically since the Good Friday Agreement.

“They have been extremely good and I am delighted, but the behaviour at the moment of the Irish prime minister and Coveney, backed up by the European Union, is actually destroying that relationship and doing considerable damage to it,” he said.

Wednesday night’s vote, in which 19 Conservative peers supported the amendment, was the 10th defeat the Lords have inflicted on the government during the passage of the EU Withdrawal Bill.