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The UK would enforce hard Irish border in case of no-deal Brexit, Philip Hammond says

The UK would enforce hard Irish border in case of no-deal Brexit, Philip Hammond says

Philip Hammond - Image credit: Ben Birchall/PA

Britain would have to impose a hard Irish border if it leaves the EU without a deal, Philip Hammond has said.

In comments that appear to put him at odds with Theresa May, the Chancellor said under World Trade Organisation Rules, the UK would have no choice but to carry out customs checks at the frontier between the Republic and Northern Ireland.

Hammond said: "The challenges around the Irish border are around the legal requirements we will have if we are not in a trade bloc within the European Union to operate the WTO compliant border, which does require checks at the border. That’s what the WTO rules require."

He added: "We are depending on the WTO to regulate our relations with the rest of the world, we will have to comply with the rest of WTO regulations or we will find we can’t enforce our WTO rights against others."

The Chancellor's comments come after May refused five times to say whether a no-deal scenario would trigger checks at the Irish border.

The Prime Minister would only tell the BBC's Andrew Marr: "If we leave with no deal, we as the UK government are still committed to doing everything we can to ensure there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland."

Brussels has insisted there must be a "backstop" agreement to ensure there can be no hard border in Ireland regardless of the outcome of the Brexit negotiations.

The admission from Hammond was seized on by campaigners for a second Brexit referendum.

Former Northern Ireland Secretary Lord Hain said: "Today's confirmation by the Chancellor that a no deal Brexit would mean a return to a hard border in Northern Ireland is shocking in its own right, but is made even more so by the fact that just this weekend the Prime Minister was downplaying this very possibility."

The Labour peer added: "No-one voted for a return to the borders of the past, least of all the people of Northern Ireland, but by pandering to the hardliners in her party that's exactly what the Government is now risking.

"The recklessness of the extremists who want to force the Government towards the most destructive Brexit possible cannot be allowed to endanger the fragile peace process in Northern Ireland."

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