The Government could help to secure the future of the Good Friday agreement by making a commitment to stay in the EU customs union after Brexit, according to Hilary Benn MP.
Mr Benn made the comments after speaking about Brexit at the Leeds Conference, an event organised by the Leeds Law Society and Leeds City Council to promote Leeds as a world class legal centre.
Mr Benn, who was chair of the Brexit select committee in the last parliament, told The Yorkshire Post that the Government must listen to all parties as it prepares to negotiate our exit from the EU.
Mr Benn said: “And that’s why I made the point, as I have before, that this ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’ simply isn’t going to happen anymore.
“It’s not a very sensible thing to say at all. We have a cross party committee, which is the Brexit select committee, I hope very much that the Government will move quickly to re-establish this.
He added: “The proof (of whether we are moving away from a hard Brexit) will be in the Government’s policy and approach.
“I argued yesterday that I think the sensible thing for the Government to do now on trade, is to say we’re staying in the customs union, because there is no way Europe is going to say, ‘You can have your cake and eat it’.
“There are two reasons why you want it; one for the benefit of business, and it is their number one request..
“And it would solve the problem in Northern Ireland in relation to the border.
“Northern Ireland was going to loom large anyway, because the Good Friday agreement was an astonishing achievement for the political process..it’s a delicate thing, there isn’t yet a return to power sharing in the new Northern Ireland executive.
“I think everyone agrees that we cannot allow the Good Friday agreement to be undermined and one of the ways of securing that is to say, ‘You don’t have to worry about tariffs.’
“The milk producers who send their milk to be processed north of the border and the people who raise beef, north of the border sending the beef south to be slaughtered and sold on; the prospect of 30 to 40 per cent tariffs for beef and dairy products (is a concern)..
“You only notice the border if you look up and see the traffic signs changing.
“It’s really important and I hope the Government is going to re-think on this, the only alternative is the negotiation of a trade and market access agreement, but that is clearly going to take longer than the Government claims.
“It’s not going to be done within the 15 to 16 months we’ve got left.”
The Government did not provide a minister to speak at the conference, which was held at Leeds Civic Hall. Other speakers included Catherine McGuinness, the new policy chairman of the City of London Corporation.