Michael Gove accused of ‘double speak’ over post-Brexit Irish border checks

Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove speaks in the House of Commons. Photograph: Parliament TV.

Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove speaks in the House of Commons. Photograph: Parliament TV. - Credit: Archant

Michael Gove has been accused of 'double speak' after claiming that there will be no 'new customs infrastructure' in Northern Ireland after Brexit before claiming there would be 'some expansion of existing infrastructure'

Making a statement in the Commons on the UK government's approach to the Northern Ireland Protocol, the minister claimed: 'Subjecting traders to unnecessary and disproportionate burdens, particularly as we wrestle with the economic consequences of Covid-19, would not serve the interests of the people of Northern Ireland for whom the protocol was designed.'

He added: 'It's important for us all to recall that the clear majority of northern Ireland's trade is with the rest of the UK, so safeguarding the free flow of goods within the UK's internal market is of critical importance to Northern Ireland's economy and people.'

But shadow Cabinet Office minister Rachel Reeves said that 'many fear' the government is not willing to admit the full extent of additional checks and tariffs on goods.

She told the Commons: 'We welcome the statement today but it does expose the broken promises made by the Prime Minister. Today there has been an admission, for the first time, that there will be additional checks, that there will be tariffs on goods at risk of entering the single market.

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'Even now, many fear that the government are not willing to admit the full extent of those. We have seven months to get this right and we must.'

Reports previously claimed the UK government had told Stormont officials it expects that post-Brexit custom checks will be imposed in ports across the region, despite the prime minister insisting 'there will be no forms, no checks, no barriers of any kind'.

Gove told MPs: 'We'll ensure that there are no tariffs on goods remaining within the UK customs territory... Implementation of the protocol will not involve new customs infrastructure.'

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But the Brexiteer admitted there will be 'some expansion of existing infrastructure'.

'We acknowledge, however, as we've always done that on agric-food and live-animal movements, it makes sense to protect supply chains and the disease-free status of the island of Ireland, as has been the case since the 19th century. That will mean some expansion of existing infrastructure to provide for some additional new processes for the agriculture and food sector.'

He added: 'There is no such case, however, for new customs infrastructure and as such there will not be any.'

During the referendum campaign, Gove promised there would be 'no change to the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland' after Brexit.

Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran accused the Brexiteer of 'double speak' to cover up broken promises.

She said: 'Michael Gove is shamelessly using double speak to try and hide his own broken Brexit promises.

'We were told that Brexit would mean no changes to the border in Northern Ireland. Now the government has admitted that some additional infrastructure will be needed, while traders will face checks on goods crossing the Irish sea.

'It's becoming clear that the country cannot afford the economic damage and chaos of a no deal Brexit at the end of this year. Time is running out for the government to agree to an extension and people's livelihoods first.'

Naomi Smith from the pro-EU Best for Britain organisation also criticised the statement.

She said: 'These are not minor details and they illustrate just what a challenge the government faces when it come to sorting out the GB-Northern Ireland border, an issue which it cannot afford to get wrong. Ministers, like everyone involved in this process, need adequate time to work through these proposals – it's been six months since the PM pledged there would be no checks, and look how that position has now changed.

'Piling this on to officials, civil servants and – most significantly – businesses while the country should be focused on battling and recovering from Covid-19, risks adding to the confusion, at a time when we need utter clarity. Ultimately, more haste makes for less speed – the government must buy itself additional time to do this properly, even if that means extending the December 31st transition deadline. They got Brexit done in January, now they need time to get the right deal for Northern Ireland and Great Britain'.

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