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Implications of the UK Leaving the EU

Volume 611: debated on Wednesday 8 June 2016

7. What assessment she has made of the potential implications for border controls and security in Northern Ireland of the UK leaving the EU. (905254)

Having the UK and Ireland in the EU guarantees the free movement of people and goods across the border, boosting cross-border co-operation and trade. The UK and Ireland will always co-operate closely on security matters, but membership of the EU enhances our ability to co-operate with member states to combat crime and terrorism and keep our country safe.

The most passionate Europhile I know is the Irish ambassador to the UK, Dan Mulhall. He says that, in the event of Brexit, the principles of the Good Friday agreement and the common travel area would be maintained. Rather than inflating fears about the border, is it not incumbent on our Minister to de-escalate and deflate those straw men?

I know that the hon. Gentleman is a keen campaigner for Brexit and he no doubt also wants to control his borders. He cannot have it both ways. He cannot want to control his borders and make checks while letting everything just carry on as normal. With all due respect to the Republic of Ireland, it would be up to the European Union to decide what it did on the border of its customs union and not necessarily up to individual states. That is why Brexit would put our safety at risk and put barriers to trade across that border.

As has been mentioned, we have had a common travel area between southern Ireland and Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom as a whole for 100 years. What reassurances can the Minister give me that, regardless of the outcome of the referendum—he will know that I back remain—cross-border co-operation and security will remain a priority in Westminster and in Stormont?

We will of course seek continued security co-operation. No one is alleging that that would stop, but we would perhaps lose the European arrest warrant, Europol and all the organisations that allow us to build trust and to carry out successful intelligence work in order to counter terrorism.

Does the Minister agree that it is inconceivable that there would be no changes to the current cross-border arrangements if the UK were to leave the EU? Will he urge the Secretary of State finally to admit that she is wrong to say that there would be no such changes, primarily because this is a matter not just for her but for the Irish Government, and Ireland would still be in the European Union?

The hon. Gentleman is correct. There are two options for what happens at the border: either there would be more controls at the UK’s border with the Republic of Ireland and the European Union, or there could be an internal border within the United Kingdom similar to the one we had after the war, but I do not think that the Unionists in Northern Ireland would want that at all.

Will the Minister of State assure me that the amicable relationship between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland will continue, no matter what the outcome of the referendum, and that any adjustments that need to be made when we vote to leave the EU will be decided through mutual agreement between the two nations? That is the way in which all business should be done.

Were the United Kingdom to choose to leave the European Union, the negotiations about what would happen between the sovereign state of the United Kingdom and the European Union would be done between the European Union and that country. The Republic of Ireland would therefore have a say in that, but it would not have an overall say on the terms of our exit. That is why the best solution is to remain in the European Union and to take advantage of its security, because we are better, safer and stronger in it.

Given that Brexit will threaten policing and security in the communities of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and in the communities of Ireland, will the Minister advise the Secretary of State to get out and campaign for the European arrest warrant to remain in place and for a remain vote on 23 June?

It is delightful to hear the Scottish National party talk about Great Britain from time to time. We will of course be delighted to ensure that we maintain the European arrest warrant and our membership of Europol by staying in the European Union, so I suggest that we all get out and campaign.