Government faces Brexit backlash over Ireland 'no hard border' pledge
Businesses and senior politicians have cast doubt on the Government's vow that Brexit will not mean a return to a hard border between the Republic and Northern Ireland.
Whitehall officials today insisted that a Common Travel Area between Ireland and Britain, as well as virtually identical customs rules, could continue even after the UK quits the European Union.
They also conceded that it could mean EU nationals being able to freely enter the UK after Brexit via the Republic of Ireland.
Reacting to the Government's 25-page position paper on Ireland, CBI deputy director general Josh Hardie said: "This suggests that the UK government is going in the right direction, but there’s a way to go before businesses are reassured that trade will continue smoothly after Brexit.
"Uncertainty weighs particularly heavy for firms and families in the region. Companies are making long-term investment decisions now and need to see much more detail on these proposals in the coming weeks."
He added: "Until a future UK-wide customs system is in place, it is difficult to see how any guarantees can be given about the absence of physical borders or checkpoints."
Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney said the Government proposals "provide much needed clarity in certain areas and they reflect what the Irish government has been looking for in a number of areas".
But he added: "There are still many unanswered questions and of course it’s up to the negotiating teams to try and find the way forward on many of the complex issues - in particular in relation to the border issues on the island of Ireland and the need from our perspective as close as possible to the status quo."
Labour MP Pat McFadden, of the pro-EU group Open Britain, said: "The obvious solution to frictionless trade and the border issues with Northern Ireland is to stay within the customs union. This gives us easy access to trade within the EU and makes us party to a number of trade agreements around the world.
"It would be a tragedy if Brexit resulted in a big step backwards on the progress made in Northern Ireland in recent years. That can be avoided by being less dogmatic about leaving the customs union and avoiding the need for elaborate new arrangements designed to replicate what we have at the moment."
But Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire said: "This paper shows the Government's commitment to protecting and advancing the unique interests of Northern Ireland as we leave the EU.
"The paper provides flexible and imaginative ideas and demonstrates our desire to find a practical solution that recognises the unique economic, social and cultural context of the land border with Ireland without creating any new obstacles to trade in the UK."