Britain seeks invisible border for Northern Ireland in Brexit negotiations

James Chapman has launched his campaign via Twitter

James Chapman has launched his campaign via Twitter

The Whitehall paper has effectively recommended no changes to the current arrangements.

Mrs May also reiterated that the free movement of European Union citizens will end amid reports that the Home Office is developing plans to ensure they are free to travel and live in Britain post-Brexit.

The Government has confirmed that it wants to avoid a return to a physical border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, relying on alternative methods such as digital checks to monitor trade and customs duties.

But Conor McGinn, a Northern Ireland-born Labour MP who backs the pro-EU Open Britain group, said: "The government is right to reiterate its pledge not to return to the borders of the past, but even this language shows how far along the road of regression we have travelled since Brexit".

But London says the issue of how goods and people will move across the frontier can not be separated from discussion about wider customs arrangements between Britain and the European Union.

It rejected the idea of an effective customs border in the Irish Sea as "not constitutionally or economically viable".

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According to recent data from the Northern Ireland Office, more than 80 per cent of all firms in Northern Ireland are small or medium sized and engaged in local business rather than worldwide trade.

Democratic Unionist Party leader and former Stormont first minister Arlene Foster - whose party supports Mrs May's minority Government in Westminster - described the paper as a "constructive step".

In the long term, the department said, a "customs partnership" could eliminate the need for a border for goods traveling between Britain and the EU.

But Sinn Fein called it "delusional".

Logistics associations have welcomed proposals from the United Kingdom government on post-Brexit customs arrangements, but want more detail and assurances of continued "frictionless" trade.

Since the 1998 Good Friday peace accord, British military checkpoints along the border have been dismantled, rendering it all but invisible.

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The government indicated that it was "confident" it could enforce planned post-Brexit immigration controls through new visa and benefit rules.

An Irish Government spokesperson welcomed the imminent publication of the UK's Northern Ireland border policy document.

"On Ireland, we would reiterate what [EU chief Brexit negotiator] Michel Barnier has said before".

On Tuesday it outlined plans for a future customs agreement with the European Union that would likely define the relationship between Dublin and the province.

"I think we have some of that thinking in the paper that is being published today", he added.

European Commission spokeswoman Annika Breidthardt said that it was important to have a "political discussion" about the issue before the parties can look for "technical solutions".

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The paper, which is part of a series detailing Britain's stance on key Brexit issues, included an interim period after Brexit to allow a transition to the new border set-up.

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