Raab accuses Irish Government of taking ‘trenchant line’ on backstop

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Former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab has said that the UK Government would renegotiate the backstop if they found “a ladder for the Irish Government to climb down”.

Speaking to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee on Wednesday, he accused the Irish Government of taking a “trenchant line” on the backstop.

Mr Raab said that the UK Government made the right decision on Tuesday to vote in favour of changing the backstop plan.

Referring to negotiations while he was Brexit secretary, he said: “What was clear to me in Dublin was that, politically, they were taking a very firm line on a deadline.

“The Irish Government took such a trenchant line on the backstop, such a very political line.

“We probably need to work with our Irish friends and partners in a way that not only deals with the practical operational issues, but is politically acceptable to them.

“They are in a very difficult position now because of the particularly strong political position that was taken by the Taoiseach.”

He also claimed that some representatives in Dublin, Northern Ireland and in the European Commission saw the border issue as an opportunity to control the UK after Brexit.

“It was reported to me through diplomats that there were voices to that effect,” he said.

He added that it was possible that a “big part” of the problem surrounding the negotiations was that some people in Ireland and the EU do not believe Brexit will happen.

Lady Sylvia Hermon, MP for North Down, asked whether Mr Raab had read the Belfast Agreement.

He replied: “I haven’t sat down and read it from the beginning. At various points of negotiations it was important to delve in and read parts.

“It’s not like a novel where you sit down and think it’s a cracking read.”

Democratic Unionist MP Ian Paisley Jr raised comments made by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar last week after he suggested that soldiers could return to the border if Brexit goes badly wrong.

Mr Raab,  who stepped down as Brexit secretary last year, said he was “surprised” by the political approach from Dublin, and added: “We want to retain a strong relationship with our Irish partners. You could argue they have the most to lose.

“Some of that language has courted the very thing they want to avoid.”

Mr Paisley’s DUP colleague Gregory Campbell questioned whether the Irish Government or the EU discussed what a hard border would look like during the Brexit negotiations.

Mr Raab said a hard border, in terms of infrastructure or customs, was not raised but added that the troubles of the past “were never far from our concerns”.

He told the committee that he made it clear to Brussels’ chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier that the UK Government would not countenance a return to the hard border.

He added: “I toured the border (last year) with the PSNI and looked at the police stations and the border and got a sense of what it looked like in practice and it’s beautiful, with rolling hills.”

When asked by British Labour MP Conor McGinn, who is originally from south Armagh, why he did not stop to talk to people who lived in the border, Mr Raab said he was advised not to in order to “avoid a political scrum”.

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