David Trimble has suggested a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland could have the “delightful side-effect” of locals making money from smuggling rather than engaging in terrorism.
The former Ulster Unionist Party leader and first minister of Northern Ireland said he expected the EU would force Ireland to erect a tariff barrier on the border.
“If there is this tariff barrier between southern Ireland and England, then there will be people in southern Ireland who start to move things into Northern Ireland and then into England that way to avoid the tariffs – smuggling,” he told BBC Radio 4′s Today programme on Wednesday morning.
“When it comes to smuggling through the border, I’m sure that people who’ve been long experienced in dealing with the border will come into play there. They will probably organise themselves, they will be very like the paramilitary organisations there before.
He continued: “But they are there simply for the purpose of making money and smuggling and that will actually help by keeping these chaps – who might otherwise do silly things, giving them something useful and money-making to do. It will actually have a benign effect.”
Lord Trimble called on Dublin to press Brussels for a British Isles exemption from the requirement to collect tariffs on trade with countries outside the EU.
It came as Dublin said would back any request from the UK for an extension to the Article 50 process to give more time to negotiate withdrawal from the EU.
Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney rejected Eurosceptic talk of a no-deal Brexit as “bravado” and said he believed there was still time to reach agreement by October.
But called for an “intensification” of talks at official level over the summer to resolve outstanding differences.
Coveney was speaking as talks continued in Brussels, with a meeting between EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier and Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab scheduled for Thursday.
Theresa May confirmed on Tuesday that she had taken personal charge of the negotiations, with Raab “deputising” for her in Brussels.