A senior DUP figure has dismissed claims that the government’s commitment to no physical infrastructure on the Irish border post-Brexit will rule out a ‘no deal’ scenario with the EU.
Sammy Wilson MP also rejected the notion that the inclusion of the provision in the EU (Withdrawal) Bill would led to a ‘soft Brexit’ by locking the UK into a tight customs arrangement with Brussels.
Both Tory and Labour MPs say the measure – which was passed in the Commons without a vote on Tuesday – is the most significant event in this week’s fraught Brexit debates.
Ex-Tory chancellor Ken Clarke said the legally binding commitment to prevent physical infrastructure on the border, including checks and controls, “extends the needs of the Irish border to the whole of the UK”.
He added: “We are going to reproduce the customs union and the single market and the government will not be able to comply with Tuesday’s legal obligation unless it does so.”
Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer also claimed the move makes the maximum facilitation or ‘max fac’ option – using technology to oversee trade at the border – “unlawful”.
He added that the inclusion of the NI amendment meant the only option for the government was to now “reproduce the customs union and the single market”.
But DUP Brexit spokesman Mr Wilson – who is in favour of ‘max fac’ as a solution to the Irish border issue – said the option was still on the table.
He told the News Letter: “The so-called max fac model is still very much a possibility, as it doesn’t require any additional infrastructure such as border posts in order to work.
“We already have intelligence-led spot checks and surveillance cameras at the border, so a lot of the stuff required for max fac to operate is already in place.
“It can still happen and is still our preferred option. Enshrining this in law doesn’t rule out the max fac option, as that model would employ a lot of things that are already there at present anyway.”
Meanwhile, Sinn Fein MEP Martina Anderson yesterday claimed the likelihood of a no-deal Brexit is “increasing”.
“What was once the last option is now fast becoming the likely outcome,” she added.
“The fault for a no-deal Brexit would lay squarely with Theresa May and the British government who have had no plan or strategy from the start, displaying total disregard for the people of the north.”