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Dominic Raab slaps down Michel Barnier as he insists there will not be customs checks in the Irish sea

3 min read

Dominic Raab has rejected a claim from the EU's Michel Barnier that the Brexit agreement makes customs checks in the Irish Sea "indispensable".

The Foreign Secretary said it was "wrong" for Brussels' Brexit chief negotiator to claim that goods entering Northern Ireland and Great Britain will be subject to extra paperwork once Britain leaves the post-Brexit transition period.

And he urged the EU to "stay committed" to the deal thrashed out by the two sides.

Under the terms of the withdrawal agreement signed off late last year, Northern Ireland will continue to follow EU rules on agricultural and manufactured goods while the rest of the UK will not.

Meanwhile, the whole of the UK will leave the EU's customs union but Northern Ireland will continue to enforce the EU's customs code on goods entering it from Great Britain.

But Boris Johnson has insisted that trade between Britain and the province will still remain "unfettered" and that no customs checks will be necessary.

Casting doubt on that claim in a speech at Queen's University in Belfast this week, Mr Barnier said: "In agreeing to the protocol, the UK has agreed to a system of reinforced checks and controls for goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain.

"I understand the fears of negative economic fallout expressed by some about these checks.

"But Brexit unfortunately has consequences that we must manage."

And he said the UK's decision's to quit the customs union and single market "makes checks indispensable".

But that claim was rejected outright by the Foreign Secretary on Sunday.

Asked by Sky's Sophy Ridge whether checks would take place, Mr Raab said: "No, it's directly in conflict, not just with the Withdrawal Agreement but the undertakings in the political declaration [setting out the two sides' future relationship]."

And Mr Raab said of Mr Barnier: "He's wrong if the EU lives up to its commitment on its side, both in the withdrawal agreement but also the political declaration."

He added:  "We've got the deal. You can examine the terms. It's not my word or anyone else's word and the commitment is to avoid all of those things with a best-in-class free trade agreement.

"And I'm sure we're committed to it on our side and I'm sure the EU will want to stay committed to the undertakings that they've made. That's what we expect."

The comments came amid reports that the Prime Minister will use a speech in London on Monday to say he wants "no alignment" between Britain and the European Union in a post-Brexit trade deal.

Such a move is likely to meet resistance from the EU, which has argued that adherence to key rules and standards will be required for a deal that includes a high level of access to its market.

But, addressing business leaders and diplomats in London, Mr Johnson will call for the UK to be treated as an "equal" in the talks and demand "no alignment, no jurisdiction of the European courts, and no concessions" with Brussels.

Echoing that message, Mr Raab said: "We are taking back control of our laws, so we're not going to have high alignment with the EU, legislative alignment with their rules. 

"But we'll want to cooperate and we expect the EU to follow through on their commitment to a Canada-style free trade agreement. And that's what we're pursuing."

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