Julian Smith breaks ranks with Boris Johnson to brand no-deal Brexit ‘very bad’ for Northern Ireland
Julian Smith has broken ranks with Boris Johnson by insisting that a no-deal Brexit would be “very, very bad” for Northern Ireland.
The Secretary of State for NI said preventing the UK from crashing out of the European Union without an agreement had been a “priority” for his department.
It comes despite months of assurances from the Prime Minister that the Government was prepared to take Britain out of the EU “do or die”, with or without an agreement, on 31 October.
The Cabinet minister said that while his first aim since taking the post in July was trying to get the Stormont assembly up and running again, “the second priority was doing everything we can to avoid no-deal”.
Speaking at the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, he added: “I think no-deal is a very, very bad idea for Northern Ireland.”
Mr Johnson won the support of the Commons for his deal on Tuesday night, before "pausing" it shortly after, when MPs failed to back the timetable motion that could allow him to take Britain out of the EU on the Halloween deadline.
The European Union is now expected to offer the UK a three-month delay to Britain's exit until January 2020, after the PM was forced by Parliament to write to Brussels asking for an extension.
Mr Smith also clashed with DUP MPs, who are bitterly opposed to the Prime Minister's deal amid fears that its customs arrangements could force Northern Ireland businesses to fill out forms in order to send goods to mainland Britain.
Hitting out at the "unclear" and "disgraceful" proposals, Ian Paisley told the Northern Ireland Secretary: “If you had to move goods from North Yorkshire to London and had to fill in a form, you’d feel pretty aggrieved about that.
"I’ve to tell my constituents to move goods from County Antrim to London [they] have to fill in a form. We’re in the same country, it’s disgraceful."
Meanwhile, the DUP's Jim Shannon branded the agreement “despicable” and “worse” than Theresa May’s, before adding: "[The deal] alienates unionist people, it alienates me, my shade of unionism is different from yours at this moment in time, because of this deal… the union flag in Northern Ireland is a wee bit tattered at the moment."
Mr Smith added: “We will be fully committed to making sure that that business transaction, that the movement of those goods will be as easy and as straightforward as we can do.
"It’s obviously in the Government’s interest that that’s the case, it’s in HMRC’s interest that that’s the case.”