Julian Smith has insisted that checks between Northern Ireland and Great Britain will be minimal after Brexit.
The Northern Ireland Secretary was unable to give any further detail on the nature of the checks proposed in the British Prime Minister’s draft deal to leave the EU, but repeated they would be minimal.
Unionists have expressed concern over the proposed Brexit deal that Boris Johnson agreed with the European Union.
At Westminster, the DUP has refused to back the deal, while in Belfast earlier this week there was a meeting of loyalists who warned they will not accept an “economic united Ireland”.
Mr Smith moved to reassure unionists, saying that Northern Ireland will be “out of the European Union, out of free movement rules, out of the EU budget, out of fisheries policy, out of the common agricultural policy and free to do trade deals”.
“We’re talking about a very limited set of goods areas and on that I am going to be working with Northern Ireland businesses and political parties to make sure that the Government is minimising any challenge between NI and GB,” he said.
Pressed on what those checks will be, Mr Smith responded: “There will be some information required but it’s a minimal amount.”
During Mr Smith’s first appearance at the Northern Ireland Affairs committee at Westminster today, a Northern Ireland Office official detailed the level of trade from Northern Ireland to Great Britain as €20.9 billion, €6 billion with the Republic of Ireland and €4 billion with the rest of the EU.
DUP North Antrim MP Ian Paisley put to Mr Smith: “I have to go out and tell businesses in my constituency that I don’t know what you have to do to carry out £18 billion worth of trade with our country, our country, not a foreign country … you want me to vote for this? You can’t be serious.”
Mr Smith responded: “We have got our own commitments we are going to put into the withdrawal agreement bill to deliver unfettered access from GB to NI. We’ll be looking at communication technology and we’ll be making sure we support Northern Ireland businesses.
“We will be fully committed to making sure that business transaction, the movement of those goods will be as easy and straightforward as we can do. It’s obviously in the Government’s interests that’s the case.”
Mr Paisley responded telling Mr Smith he would feel “pretty aggrieved” if he had to fill in a form to move goods from his constituency in North Yorkshire to London.
“Let us see what is required … we will work to make sure we keep things as minimal and as similar as they are today.”
DUP Strangford MP Jim Shannon blasted the Brexit deal as “absolutely despicable”, worse than Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement.
Labour St Helen’s North MP Conor McGinn put it to Mr Smith that it had been a “huge policy shift” to “having a border between NI and GB”, and asked whether he wished to apologise to the unionist people for “making them a promise you couldn’t keep”.
“I would say to unionists that I believe strongly this has no impact on the constitutional settlement in Northern Ireland, it has no impact on the workings of the Assembly but it does give Northern Ireland an opportunity to benefit from UK trade deals and it does give Northern Ireland the opportunity to have the best of both worlds,” Mr Smith responded.