Prime Minister challenged on claims that there is 'no sense of border' in Irish Sea

The Prime Minister’s claims of there being “no sense of a border” in the Irish Sea “ring hollow”, MPs have heard. Credit: PA

The Prime Minister’s claims of there being “no sense of a border” in the Irish Sea “ring hollow”, MPs have heard. Unionists have been critical of post-Brexit trading arrangements, claiming the deal struck with the EU has distanced Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK. Following further negotiations with the European Union earlier this year, Rishi Sunak contended that the Windsor Framework removed this sense of a border in the Irish Sea from the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Conservative MP Jonathan Gullis disputed this on Wednesday during Northern Ireland Questions in the House of Commons. He said to Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris: “Does the Secretary of State accept that for as long as there are customs declarations, physical searches and ID checks for businesses moving goods from Great Britain into Northern Ireland, even in the green lane, then the Prime Minister’s view of there being no sense of a border in the Irish Sea will ring hollow?” Mr Heaton-Harris responded: “I’m afraid, with the greatest respect to (Mr Gullis), I do not accept that. “When we agreed to the Windsor Framework we committed a certain number of EU laws being maintained in Northern Ireland which has been of economic benefit to Northern Ireland even up to this point and will continue to be in the future.” He said that businesses involved in the arrangements believe they are “simple and very straightforward”. The Government remains in dialogue with Northern Ireland’s largest unionist party, the DUP, over concerns around the framework. The DUP is refusing to participate in devolved government at Stormont until it is satisfied that unionist concerns around the framework have been addressed. While there have been suggestions from the DUP and the Government that the talks are nearing the final stages, no further details have been disclosed. DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson praised Mr Gullis for his “excellent” question, adding in the Commons on Wednesday: “Our objective is to ensure that Northern Ireland’s place in our biggest market – the United Kingdom – is restored and protected in law. “Will the Secretary of State work with us to ensure that where goods are moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland they are not subject to EU customs processes that are neither necessary or fair or right, and that save for animal health and the risk of smuggling that there should not be checks on those goods?” Mr Heaton-Harris replied: “I very much enjoy working with him on a regular basis to try and achieve the aims that he has put out. “I would say we have gone a long way in the Windsor Framework in this place so far, but I look forward to continued engagement with him in the next few days because we do need to find a resolution to these issues that also means that we can reform Stormont and deal with other domestic issues in Northern Ireland.”

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