British Euro Minister says Anglo-Irish relations are going through ’bumpy period’

Relations between the UK and Ireland are going through a "bumpy period", Europe Minister Sir Alan Duncan acknowledged as the two countries remained at odds over Brexit.

Sir Alan suggested that the current difficulties over the status of the border were partly as a result of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s domestic political difficulties, which have resulted in the resignation of Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald.

The British Foreign Office minister has told British MPs he wanted a situation at the Northern Ireland border which would preserve "as much of the status quo" in people’s every day lives as possible.

Giving evidence to the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee he said relations with Ireland were generally quite strong.

"There are is a closeness of personal contacts which is pretty strong," he said. "It’s a slightly bumpy period, born, I think, partly as well of their own domestic problems which we hope they will overcome."

Sir Alan said the relationship with Ireland is "enormously important" and the "preservation and continuation of the Northern Ireland peace process is absolutely essential".

He said the UK wanted a "frictionless border" so that as much as possible "of the status quo in people’s daily life can continue unobstructed".

Labour former Europe minister Chris Bryant said legal advice from the Foreign Office had suggested a hard border was inevitable if a country left the EU.

He said he had been asked in 2010 what the situation would have been if Scotland had left the UK and EU.

"The legal advice from the Foreign Office was extremely clear, namely that there would be a hard border," Mr Bryant said.

Concerns have been raised that the issue could make the break-up of the UK more likely, either by splitting Northern Ireland away from Great Britain or showing Scotland that a frictionless border is possible after leaving a single market, removing one of the barriers to independence.

Sir Alan said: "I think the union is of the utmost importance to us and it is a strong part of our policy that it will and should endure.

"I think there will be a way of, I hope, avoiding any physical infrastructure and that’s what I think the discussions will now turn to."

He added: "I do not see this as something which will lead to the break-up of the UK."

- David Hughes, Press Association

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