Barry Gardiner suggests he wanted to ‘advance thinking’ with 'Good Friday Agreement played up in Brexit' claim

Posted On: 
20th May 2018

Barry Gardiner has defended his claim that Brexit risks to the Good Friday Agreement were being "played up" for economic reasons as an attempt to further thinking on the Irish border.

His comments come after separate claims made in Brussels
PA Images

The Shadow International Trade Secretary said private conversations were necessary in political negotiations, and that “sticking by the line” meant issues could never advance.

It comes after he was recorded controversially telling a thinktank session in Brussels that the Irish government had an “economic interest” in exaggerating the importance of a tariff-free, frictionless border to keep violence at bay.

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“I think we must also recognise that there are real economic reasons why people have played up the issue of the Irish border and the need to have the shibboleth of the Good Friday Agreement,” he said.

The Labour frontbencher released a statement just days later saying he was "deeply sorry" for suggesting the accord - which won peace in Northern Ireland - was now out of date.

Asked today whether he stood by the remarks, he told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show. “Sometimes you have conversations in private, and the reason they’re held in private is because you can advance thinking…

“If all you ever do is stick by the given line you’re never actually advancing, because you’d never discuss anything with people. That’s the reason for holding things in private.”

Elsewhere the Labour frontbencher insisted he did not “rubbish” Labour policy, following a separate recording in which he said one of the party's "six tests" on Brexit was "b******s".

In an outspoken attack he said there was no way the UK could enjoy "the exact same benefits" as it does as a member of the customs union and single market after it leaves the EU.

When pressed on the issue this morning, he added: “Our position is that we will hold [the Government] to account to what they promised the British people, which is that they will secure the exact same benefits outside of the EU as they did inside of the EU.”