Sat. Mar 23rd, 2019

Brexit: Plan for Irish border if no deal to be published

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Flags flying outside Westminster AFP
MPs will now get a vote on whether the UK should leave without a deal on 29 March and, if that fails, one on whether Brexit should be delayed

Details of how the UK will manage its border with Ireland in the event of a no-deal Brexit will be published on Wednesday, Theresa May has said.

The prime minister lost a second vote on her deal in Parliament by 149 votes.

Those voting against the deal included the 10 Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) MPs.

Its deputy leader Nigel Dodds told Sky News that the best way to get a deal his party would back, was to “keep no deal on the table”.

The border issue has been politically sensitive and the government has resisted outlining a policy until now.

Addressing the Commons, the prime minister also said MPs will now get a vote on whether the UK should leave without a deal on 29 March and, if that fails, on whether Brexit should be delayed.

She said failing to reach a deal would do “potential damage to the union…when one part of our union is without governance”, referencing the stalemate in the Stormont assembly.

Northern Ireland has been without devolved government for more than two years after a power-sharing arrangement collapsed.

Protests have taken place at the Irish border arguing against any return of physical infrastructure

Opposition to the government’s plan focused on the backstop, the insurance policy to avoid a hard Irish border after Brexit in the event of a wider trade deal not being reached.

Although the prime minister said on Monday that she had secured legally binding changes to her deal, legal advice from Attorney General Geoffrey Cox said “the legal risk remains unchanged” that the UK would have no legal means of leaving the backstop without EU agreement.

For that reason, the DUP said its 10 MPs would vote against the deal again, having opposed it in January when it was first voted on in Parliament.

Analysis: What will the no-deal detail say?

By John Campbell, BBC News NI Business and Economics Editor

Theresa May said on Wednesday the government will also provide details of what tariffs the UK will apply to imported goods in the event of no deal.

The UK government has consistently said will do everything in its power to avoid a hardening of the border whatever the circumstances.

However, it has not produced a detailed policy.

Last week, senior officials from HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) said they could not give cross border traders advice until a policy has been announced.

The officials also said that Northern Ireland businesses will not be ready for new border procedures if there is a no deal Brexit later this month,

They said that even if border processes were announced immediately there is “insufficient time for traders who wish to comply to get ready.”

HMRC have consulted with business organisation in Northern Ireland through its Border Delivery Group.

However the businesses have been bound by non disclosure agreements.

How do NI’s political parties view the result?

DUP MP Sammy Wilson, who had warned his party would not back the deal because enough progress had not been made on the backstop, said the government needed to “respect the constitutional and economic integrity” of the UK.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said his party was extremely disappointed that the deal had been rejected again and called for a delay in order to avoid a no-deal exit.

Ulster Unionist MEP Jim Nicholson urged “calm heads” and that a short technical extension should be “seriously considered”, while Alliance leader Naomi Long called for another referendum as “a matter of urgency”.

“The clearest, most coherent and most democratic route through this impasse lies with a people’s vote, including both the prime minister’s deal and the Remain option,” she said.

How have business and farming groups reacted?

In a joint statement, the UK’s four farming union presidents, including Ivor Ferguson of Ulster Farmers’ Union, said it is “critical” that a clear strategy is now identified to try and find a deal that Parliament can support.

The Federation of Small Businesses in NI said the result had “further heightened uncertainty” and was another setback for businesses.

The NI Retail Consortium said that retailers are “now simply beyond frustration at the lack of certainty and clarity over future trading”, while Retail NI called for an extension of Article 50: the legal process that triggered the Brexit process.

“Every element of the Northern Ireland business community, trade unions and voluntary sector is speaking with one very clear voice on Brexit – we need a deal,” said Glyn Roberts, its chief executive.

Both the UK and the EU have said they do not want to see a hard Irish border

Why is the Irish border the focus in all of this?

The UK is set to leave the EU on 29 March 2019 after voting to leave in 2016.

The UK and EU have been engaged in negotiations for two years, with the issue of the Irish border the sticking point.

Both sides committed to avoid a hard Irish border – the return of checks or physical infrastructure – along the 310-mile frontier between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

They agreed to a backstop: an insurance policy to maintain an open border unless and until another solution is found.

But the DUP and other parties at Westminster argued that the backstop posed a risk to the integrity of the union by creating an “Irish Sea border”, and secondly, that it tied the UK to EU rules indefinitely with no say in them.

But a majority of business and farming groups in Northern Ireland, as well as other political parties, had supported the backstop and the government’s deal.

Confused by Brexit jargon? Reality Check unpacks the basics

What could happen next?

The government had promised a further vote for Wednesday on whether the UK should leave without a deal.

If that no-deal option is rejected, MPs could get a vote on Thursday on whether to request a delay to Brexit from the EU.

An EU spokesperson said officials were disappointed that the UK government has been unable to ensure a majority for the deal.

“On the EU side we have done all that is possible to reach an agreement,” it added.

Border ‘no-deal plan’ to be published

Details of how the UK will manage its border with Ireland in the event of a no-deal Brexit will be published on Wednesday, Theresa May has said. The prime minister lost a second vote on her deal in Parliament by 149 votes. Those voting against the deal included the 10 Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) MPs.

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