John McDonnell has warned that bringing back a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland after Brexit would “be a nightmare” that could affect the peace process.
When asked regarding what would happen to the border once Britain withdraws from the European Union, the shadow chancellor said that Britain needed to have a close relationship with the customs union to make sure that the peace process was not jeopardised.
McDonnell told the Andrew Marr Show of the BBC: “Bringing back a hard border would be a nightmare. It would not be practical anyway.
“We have to have a relationship which is as close to the customs union as we can, because I would not want to see anything that undermines the peace process in particular and all the gains that we’ve had.
“A hard border would undermine that relationship that’s been built up between north and south so delicately.”
It comes after the Irish Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, demanded a commitment that there would not be a return to a hard border between the Republic and Northern Ireland.
Attending a European summit that was held in Sweden, he made clear that Brexit negotiations could not continue to their second phase until the future status of the border was made clear.
Prime Minister Theresa May is anxious to finalise the agreement of EU leaders to open discussions regarding the future relations of Britain with the bloc – which includes a free trade deal – when they meet in Brussels next month.
However, Varadkar, who met Prime Minister May in the margins of the gathering in Gothenburg, stated that would need further “concessions” from the United Kingdom.
“Before we move to phase two talks on trade, we want taken off the table any suggestion that there will be a physical border, a hard border, new barriers to trade on the island of Ireland,” Varadkar informed porters.
“If we have to wait until the New Year, if we have to wait for further concessions, so be it.”
The foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, who was in Dublin to meet Simon Coveney, his Irish counterpart, insisted that there was no request for a return to a hard border of the past.
However, Coveney warned that it was not possible to avoid some kind of “border infrastructure” if – as PM May has stated – Britain is to withdraw from the single market and the customs union.
“We simply don’t see how we can avoid border infrastructure, whether it’s on the border or somewhere else on the island if we have regulatory divergence in Northern Ireland versus the rest of the island,” Coveney said in a joint news conference with the foreign secretary.
“When you have a different rule book applied to trade and business, well then, you are starting to go down the road of having to have checks and inspections.”
However, Johnson argued that the border issue could only be resolved in the context of the broader negotiations on the future relationship of Britain with the European Union.
Johnson said: “The issues of the Northern Irish border and how it works are intellectually intimately bound up with the questions of the customs union, the single market and Britain’s relationship with those.
“Those questions have been reserved by the [European] Commission for study in stage two of the negotiations. I think, logically, now is the time to proceed with stage two of the negotiations.”