Q51 Dr Julian Lewis: Prime Minister, everybody knows that the prospect of a so-called hard border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic has been a crucial factor in forcing us to stay in a customs union, so please tell us under what circumstances a hard border could be erected between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.
The Prime Minister: First, the statement that we are “being forced” to stay in a customs union might imply to some who are listening that that is going to be the long-term permanent relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union – it is not. This is a temporary arrangement until the future relationship is in place. It need never happen in a number of places.
Q52 Dr Lewis: Can we stick to my question, though: under what circumstances could a hard border be erected between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic?
The Prime Minister: We have said that we would do everything in our power not to have a hard border –
Dr Lewis: I know that.
The Prime Minister: – but we are not the only party to this arrangement. Obviously there is the Irish Government. In fact, competence in this is a matter for the European Union. As I have just said, as the Taoiseach has made clear – sometimes it is said to me, “Well, everybody says they won’t have a hard border,” but the point that he has made is that you cannot just rely on political statements for no hard border: you have to actually have the arrangements in place that enable no hard border to be erected.
Q53 Dr Lewis: Prime Minister, you still have not answered the question. Under what circumstances could a hard border be erected, or are there no circumstances under which a hard border would be erected? For example, if we leave on 29 March without a deal – I know that you do not want us to, and that you are doing everything to avoid our leaving without a deal – would there have to be a hard border? Would that be an example of when a hard border would have to be erected?
The Prime Minister: But that would not be a decision entirely for us. The point is that there will be, potentially – in the no deal scenario, we would do everything we could not to erect a hard border, but there would be a decision from the European Union and the Irish Government. The concern that they would have would be about the fact that we would then be in a different set of circumstances on customs and so forth, and how do you check those?
Q54 Dr Lewis: You are not going to tell me any specific circumstances, but do you accept that there are some circumstances under which a hard border might have to be erected, because otherwise what are we worrying about?
The Prime Minister: That is the point. The point is that you cannot guarantee that there would be no hard border in all circumstances unless we have put in the arrangements to ensure that there is no hard border.
Q55 Dr Lewis: Right. Let us assume, because things do not always work out the way we want them to work out, that we are in some scenario whereby a hard border needed to be erected. Under those circumstances, whatever they may be, who would insist on a hard border actually being built if, for example, we leave with no deal in place? Who would insist on a hard border being built if people felt that a hard border had to be built? Would the UK under any circumstances insist on putting in a hard border, would the Irish Republic under any circumstances insist on putting in a hard border, or would the EU itself in any circumstances insist on putting in a hard border?
The Prime Minister: I can only speak for the UK Government, and I have made it clear that if we leave the European Union in a no deal scenario we will do everything in our power to avoid there being a hard border.
Q56 Dr Lewis: So, let us assume then that, in circumstances unspecified, somebody is insisting that there must be a hard border. Who would actually build it? Would the UK build it, would the Irish Republic build it, or would the EU build it? I asked you this question on 17 October but you did not answer it. You merely stated that “we are all working to ensure that there will be no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.” Please answer it now. Who would physically put this hard border in place? We certainly would not and the Irish certainly would not. How could the EU possibly do it if neither of us were going to do so?
The Prime Minister: Again, I can only speak for the United Kingdom Government in these matters. We have said that we would do everything to avoid there being a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. Decisions for the other parties in this are decisions for them, not for me.
Q57 Dr Lewis: Yes, but if they took those decisions, Prime Minister, they would find it impossible to implement, because we would not build it for them, and the Irish would not build it for them. Unless they are anticipating sending in the EU army to build it for them it would never be built, so the whole thing amounts to an excuse to keep us entangled with the European Union for fear of building a border that is never going to happen under any scenario whatsoever. That is the truth, isn’t it?
The Prime Minister: No, it is not. I do disagree with that.
Q58 Dr Lewis: So what are the circumstances?
The Prime Minister: I disagree with that, and I think it is important. If I may just address this point, there is this assumption, or point that is made, that somehow this question of the hard border in Northern Ireland is a matter that has been pushed on the United Kingdom Government by the European Union and/or the Government of the Republic of Ireland. It is not. We have a commitment to the people of Northern Ireland. They are part of the United Kingdom. I want them to be able to continue to lead their lives very much as they do today when we leave the European Union. Not having a hard border and enabling businesses to operate as they do today is an important part of the commitment that we have made. If I may refer again to the remarks that the Taoiseach made, what I will say is that you cannot avoid a hard border just through good will, political statements and wishful thinking.
Q59 Dr Lewis: So who would put it up?
The Prime Minister: It is important for us to recognise that we have a commitment to the people of Northern Ireland. I believe, as does the Taoiseach and as does the European Union, that that commitment is best met through the future relationship that we are going to have with the European Union. That is why it is important that we have within the withdrawal agreement the commitments for both sides, using their best endeavours, to ensure that that relationship is in place by the end of December 2020, so there is no question of a backstop, no question of an extension to an implementation period, and no question of alternative arrangements, because it is dealt with in the future relationship.
Dr Lewis: I have to stop now, but I can only note that you have not shown who would physically erect it, and the answer is no-one.