PM says US-Canada border could offer model for Northern Ireland after Brexit

The UK is considering the United States-Canada border as a model for Northern Ireland after Brexit, Theresa May has told MPs.

Theresa May delivers a speech in central London yesterday. She says she cannot accept the EUs fall-back plan for the Irish border. Picture: Getty

Last week the Prime Minister said she could not accept the EU’s fall-back plan for the Irish border, which involves keeping Northern Ireland in the customs union if no free trade deal is struck between London and Brussels.

While automated systems exist at the US-Canada border to ensure most goods move freely, there are significant physical customs and immigration checks on both sides, despite citizens of both countries enjoying visa-free travel.

Sign up to our Politics newsletter

Sign up to our Politics newsletter

Labour shadow Brexit minister Jenny Chapman warned Mrs May that there were “guns and armed custom guards” at the US-Canada border and challenged her: “Surely that’s not what she has in mind?”

The Prime Minister said the UK and Irish governments, as well as the European Commission “will be working together” to avoid a hard border.

But Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar ruled out formal three-way talks between the UK, Ireland and the EU, saying it was not in Ireland’s interests to take part.

Prior to Mrs May’s statement, the Taoiseach said: “There won’t be tripartite or three-way talks.

“What will happen is that there will be talks between the EU 27 and the UK, and Ireland is part of the EU 27 and we’re much stronger by the way as one of 27.”

Mr Varadkar added: “We will of course have negotiations about what could be done to avoid a hard border, but what we won’t be getting into is a negotiation with the UK, or a three-way negotiation. That’s not in our interest and not the way that this can be concluded.”

Speaking to RTE’s Morning Ireland programme, he said more detail was now needed from the UK Government. “What we want is not so much principles and aspirations and red lines.

“What we want is detail, written down in black and white that can be codified into law and that is what is required.”

A Sinn Féin delegation travelled to Brussels yesterday for talks with the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier.
Following the meeting, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said she raised the “continued frustration” at the lack of clarity on solutions for the Irish border.

“I am happy to say we have a shared understanding that there cannot be a withdrawal agreement, much less an agreement on any future relationship between Britain and the European Union, in the absence of an answer to the Irish question,” Mrs McDonald said. “The ball is now in Mrs May’s court, the ball is now in the court of the British, who say they don’t like what they have seen, they don’t like the solution advanced by Europe, if they don’t like that we would like to know what is their solution.”

Giving evidence to Commons European Scrutiny Committee, Chancellor Philip Hammond told MPs the government has so far spent around £700 million on preparations for Brexit.