We speak regularly with our counterparts in the Irish Government on a range of issues. In the joint report agreed with the EU at the December European Council, we reached an agreement that will maintain the common travel area. We also agreed that any future arrangements agreed between the UK and the EU must be compatible with the UK Government’s commitment to avoiding any physical infrastructure on the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. We will continue working closely with the Commission to agree a legally binding text for the commitments made in December.
If the Government are committed to regulatory alignment on both sides of the Irish border, has it made it easier that the Prime Minister has declared that there will be no membership of the customs union or single market?
Let us be absolutely clear: we have said we will be leaving the customs union and single market. We hope in phase 2 of the negotiations to secure the best possible trade deal with the EU, but we are committed to a frictionless border.
Does the Minister agree that once the UK leaves the EU we will have a duty to protect the rights of Irish citizens under UK law, through the common travel area, which predates Britain’s membership of the EU?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point and is right that the reciprocal rights under the common travel area between the UK and Ireland predate either country’s membership of the EU. I can assure him that the joint report from last December contains a commitment to maintaining the common travel area arrangement.
A recently published European Parliament report has indicated that it will be possible to have a frictionless border after we leave the EU, but is the Minister not concerned about the friction in relations between the UK Government and the Irish Republic? Will he comment on the threat issued by the Irish Foreign Minister yesterday that he will block negotiations unless legislation is introduced to force the Northern Ireland Assembly to introduce EU regulations?
All the parties involved recognise that this is a difficult negotiation, but we are all committed to being flexible and coming up with innovative solutions. Our relationship with Ireland goes back centuries: trade, geography, history and so on. We have an excellent working relationship with Ireland. We hope to continue that relationship to secure the best solution possible to the issue of the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Will the Minister confirm that whatever arrangements are needed to achieve a frictionless border between north and southern Ireland will apply to the whole UK?
I can assure my hon. Friend that we are committed to the constitutional and economic integrity of the UK. That will stay as it is currently.