Labour frontbencher says Northern Ireland should remain in the EU after Brexit
Labour's Northern Ireland spokesman has said the province should remain part of the EU even after the rest of the UK leaves the bloc.
In comments that will infuriate unionist parties, Owen Smith said the UK needed to come up with a "much more imaginative" solution to the thorny question of the border with the Republic of Ireland.
The issue has been a major stumbling block in the early rounds of Brexit negotiations, with the Government repeatedly voicing its opposition to any kind of physical border on the island of Ireland.
A government paper suggests there could either be a "streamlined" frontier managed by the UK, or a new customs partnership with the EU which eliminates the need for a hard border.
Speaking to an event organised by Sinn Fein at the Labour conference in Brighton, Mr Smith said:
"What I am increasingly convinced of myself is we will need . . . to be much more imaginative and much more concrete in what we offer.
“Does it mean Northern Ireland needs to remain within the EU and as part of Britain, and with people being able to identify within Northern Ireland as Irish? I think that is the space we need to be in. I do not see another solution that allows for a different outcome.”
Were the EU to consider such a solution, it would be an unprecedented step in allowing one constituent part of a nation to be in the group while the rest is outside.
Mr Smith admitted he did not know how to "frame" a possible solution, adding: "“There have been various suggestions about the European Economic Area, about Northern Ireland remaining in some form of the single market and customs union, and one of the things that is beholden on the British government is not to rule out any of those imaginative solutions.”
He drew a strong reaction from DUP MP Ian Paisley Jr, who said: "This solution was stillborn. Everyone has moved on except Sinn Fein. Owen should use his influence to bring them back out of the woods.”