PMQs: Northern Ireland’s SDLP raises border concerns if Britain leaves the EU

'What about machine guns?'


Alisdair McDonnell MP raised the spectre of the Troubles in today’s Prime Ministers’ Questions, asking David Cameron what would happen to Northern Ireland’s border with the Republic of Ireland if Britain votes for Brexit on June 23.

McDonnell, the former leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), echoed tributes paid to those killed in Orlando, Florida, and France this week in terrorist attacks.

He then asked the prime minister whether Brexit would mean ‘a return to customs posts, passport checks and a hard border’.

A fellow Northern Ireland MP added: ‘What about machine guns?’, a reference to Northern Ireland’s bloody past.

Leaving the EU next week would mean Northern Ireland’s southern border would become the border of the European Union, effectively destroying the common travel area between the North and the Republic.

Alisdair McDonnell, SDLP

McDonnell said:

Mr Speaker, the Brexit campaigners have made securing our borders their resounding war cry.

But when it comes to the only land border between the UK and the rest of the EU, we’re dismissed and told that nothing will change there.

A return to customs posts, passport checks and a hard border –

[a fellow Northern Ireland MP added: ‘What about machine guns?’]

– will be a critical economic issue for Northern Ireland’s voters in eight days’ time.

Can the prime minister now once and for all clarify this point and tell the people of Northern Ireland what would become of the border if the UK votes to leave the European Union.

The prime minister replied that you would either have ‘new border controls’ between the North and the Republic, or ‘some sort of checks’ as people left Northern Ireland to visit other parts of the UK.

David Cameron PMQs

Here is is full answer:

‘On this issue, if we vote to stay in, we know what the situation is. We know that the common travel area works, we know it can continue, and everyone can have confidence in that.

If we were to leave – and, as the Leave campaigners want, make a big issue about our borders – then you’ve got a land border between Britain [i.e. the UK] outside the European Union and the Republic of Ireland inside the European Union.

And therefore you can only either have new border controls between the Republic and Northern Ireland, or – which I would regret hugely – you’d have to have some sort of checks on people as the left Belfast or other parts of Northern Ireland to come to other parts of the United Kingdom.  

Now, we can avoid these risks. There are so many risks. Risks to our children’s jobs, risks to our economic future, risks to our borders, risks to the unity of the United Kingdom. I say, avoid the risks and vote Remain next Thursday.’

Adam Barnett is staff writer for Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter @AdamBarnett13 

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