David Jones denounced Brussels’ “breathtaking, extraordinary” threat in effect to “annexe” Northern Ireland as he warned the chances of a trade deal with the EU looked much slimmer than a week ago.
The Conservative former Welsh Secretary and Brexit minister highlighted the EU’s proposal this week to keep Northern Ireland in the EU’s customs union while the rest of Britain left, to avoid creating a “hard border” with Ireland.
Theresa May has flatly rejected the idea.
Mr Jones wrote on the BrexitCentral website: ”The lack of realism displayed by the European Commission … was truly breathtaking.
“It amounted, in essence, to the annexation of British territory by the EU … a proposal of extraordinary effrontery.”
He said the border could be discussed as part of trade deal talks but the EU’s “self-imposed negotiating guidelines” stopped it seriously addressing the post-Brexit future until Britain’s departure terms were finalised, including the Irish issue.
He said: ”It is this stodgy, plodding, process-driven approach on the part of the Commission that is making the issue of the border more difficult than it need be.
“We must hope that, in reasonably early course, the EU abandons its current stance, tears up its guidelines and starts to talk seriously about free trade. Hope, however, should never conquer expectation.
“We cannot assume – indeed, it would be irresponsible to do so – that the current negotiations will achieve a satisfactory conclusion.
“At the moment, the prospects of agreeing a transitional period, much less a permanent free trade arrangement, look considerably more uncertain than they did a week ago.
“The Government must therefore reassure the public that steps are being taken to ensure smooth customs and border arrangements after 29th March next year, whatever the outcome of the talks.
“That means spending money.”
Work including new customs systems, border staff and fisheries patrol boats would “cost a lot”.
But it would be recouped through savings on EU payments and not having to pay a £40billion “divorce settlement” in the event of no deal, and last year’s Budget had already earmarked £3billion for a no deal scenario.
Mr Jones said: ”So that money must now be spent.
“It will provide reassurance to British business and public alike.
“And, just as importantly, when the new customs sheds start going up in Dover, perhaps it will finally become clear to Brussels that time is running out, and if they really do want a post-Brexit deal, they should start talking to us seriously and urgently.”