LABOUR will not support a deal to leave the EU if it “does not work for all communities in Northern Ireland”, the shadow Brexit secretary has warned.
Sir Keir Starmer’s remarks came ahead of a visit to Derry today, Monday, January 29, when he will meet business leaders and traders on both sides of the border.
Mr Starmer is no stranger to Northern Ireland having previously worked as a human rights advisor to the Policing Board.
It is through that link that he accepted an invitation from a former vice-chair of the board, Denis Bradley, to visit the north west.
The shadow Brexit secretary will address business leaders at a breakfast gathering in Derry before travelling to the border to hear at first hand from companies who trade on both sides.
As someone who wants the UK to remain in the customs union after Brexit, which would avoid a hard border, Sir Keir is likely to receive a warm reception.
But as he will discover when he meets political leaders, there is no agreement on what is best for Northern Ireland post-Brexit.
He has said that there must be “no rowing back” from the commitments the Conservative government made to avoid a hard border.
A so-called “hard border” is one that would see the return of physical customs posts and inspections along the 310 mile (500km) frontier between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
Writing in today’s Belfast Telegragh, Sir Keir said the government had made “a number of solemn commitments to Northern Ireland” during last month’s talks.
“None more important than the commitments to protect “North-South cooperation” and “the avoidance of a hard border, including any physical infrastructure or related checks and controls,” he wrote.
“Those commitments were made ‘in all circumstances’. That means there can be no rowing back.
“They are locked-in, even in the event of a no deal.”
Sir Keir claimed that a “bitter divide” within the Conservative government over Brexit policy was the “the single biggest threat” to securing a deal with the EU.
As well as meeting cross-border traders during his trip, the shadow Brexit secretary will also meet Northern Ireland’s political leaders as talks aimed at restoring devolution continue at Stormont.
In his newspaper article, Sir Keir accused British Prime Minister Theresa May of saying “one thing to the EU and another to her MPs” regarding the transition period between March 2019 and the UK’s final exit deal with the EU.
“That is because of the continuing bitter divide in the Conservative Party over Brexit; a divide that still exists around the Cabinet table,” he wrote.
Labour wants the UK to remain in the single market and the customs union during the transitional period.
Sir Keir wrote that as well as providing certainty for businesses, this would “provide the time and space to address the complex questions that arise in Northern Ireland”.
He warned Mrs May that the “clock is ticking” on the future of customs arrangements, ahead of the next phase in the Brexit negotiations.
“The Prime Minister has just eight weeks to face down the divisions within her party and agree the necessary transitional arrangements by the time the EU Council meets in March.
“Every day she delays, she increases the uncertainty and risk of a cliff-edge Brexit.”
The joint EU-UK document agreed on 8 December said any future deal must protect “North-South co-operation” and hold to the UK’s “guarantee of avoiding a hard border”.
It also said “no new regulatory barriers” will be allowed between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.