David Davis: Northern Ireland will not be left in the single market after Brexit
David Davis today vowed not to leave Northern Ireland in the single market or customs union after Brexit, but he did not rule out keeping the UK "aligned" to Brussels regulations.
The Brexit Secretary said it was “emphatically” not the case that the Government was mulling leaving Northern Ireland part of EU institutions while the rest of the UK leaves.
But asked whether so-called regulatory divergence was a red line in negotiations, he said: "The red line for me is delivering the best Brexit for Britain."
Meanwhile, Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer called on the Government to drop the "absurd" plan to leave the EU at the end of March 2019.
It comes after DUP leader Arlene Foster - whose 10 MPs prop up Theresa May's minority government - pulled the plug on an exit arrangement between the UK and Brussels at the eleventh hour yesterday.
She dramatically intervened when leaked reports revealed the Prime Minister was on the verge of a deal that would see just Northern Ireland retain "regulatory alignment" with the bloc to preserve its open border with the Republic.
The news sparked fears among DUP figures and other devolved authority leaders that Northern Ireland could be effectively left in the European single market and customs union while the rest of the UK left.
But hauled before the Commons today, Mr Davis said: “The suggestion we might depart the EU but leave one part of the UK behind still inside the single market and customs union is emphatically not something the UK government is considering.
“So when the First Minister of Wales complains about it or the First Minister of Scotland says it’s a reason to start banging the tattered drum of independence or the Mayor of London says it justifies a hard border around the M25, I say they are making a foolish mistake.
“No UK government would allow such a thing – let alone a Conservative and Unionist one.”
Asked by Tory Brexit supporter Jacob Rees-Mogg whether regulatory divergence - whereby the UK would be free to impose differing trade rules from the bloc - was a red line, he refused to answer.
Mr Davis said alignment “does not mean the same standards” but rather regulations which “give similar results".
And he added: "The presumption of the discussion was that everything we talked about applied to the whole United Kingdom.
"Alignment isn’t harmonisation, it isn’t having exactly the same rules. It is sometimes having mutually recognised rules, mutually recognised inspection, all of that sort of thing as well.
"And that is what we are aiming for."
Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer hit out at Theresa May for “recklessly” committing the UK to quitting the single market and customs union while trying to avoid a hard border with Ireland.
“Yesterday the rubber hit the road. Fantasy met brutal reality,” he told MPs.
“The last 24 hours have given new meaning to the phrase ‘Coalition of Chaos’,” he added.
“It’s one thing to go to Brussels and fall out with those on the other side of the negotiating table.
“It’s quite another to go to Brussels and fall out with those supposedly on your own side...
“Yesterday confirmed what we already knew: the DUP tail is wagging the Tory dog.”
And he concluded: "Will the Secretary of State now drop the proposal for there to be a fixed deadline in law for exit day 29 March 2019?
"If ever there was an example of why this is absurd, yesterday was it."
'LEAVING AS A WHOLE'
Mrs May will speak to DUP leader Ms Foster and Sinn Fein leader Michelle O'Neill on the phone later.
DUP deputy leader Mr Dodds suggested there could be agreement in the coming days so the Brexit talks could move onto trade after the European Council summit next week.
"Text is important. Words are important. They really do matter. So when we finally see text that’s when we make the final decision," he said.
A Downing Street spokesperson said this morning: “We have been clear that the UK is leaving the single market and the customs union - we are leaving as a whole.
"We will not be jeopardising the UK’s own internal market.”