Jacob Rees-Mogg has said he does not need to visit the Northern Ireland border to understand the possible impact of a hard Brexit.
The Tory MP has admitted he has “not recently” visited Northern Ireland, and said he believes going to the border would not offer “any greater insight” on the Brexit threat than “studying” or talking to fellow MPs.
Seamas O’Reilly, a 32-year-old whose family home literally straddles the border between Derry and Donegal, told HuffPost that he thought Rees-Mogg’s comments were “utterly cynical”, while political opponents said the MP “had no understanding of the complicated issues”.
Thousands of commuters, schoolchildren and families cross the border each day, and fears are mounting that the return of a hard border could upend the peace process.
But the increasingly influential Rees-Mogg, who heads the European Research Group of Conservative MPs who support a hard Brexit, appeared to suggest during a BBC interview that a visit to the area would be pointless.
He said: “There was a visit of the Exiting the EU committee but I don’t think that my going to the border would give me any greater insight than speaking to people.”
He added he had spoken Northern Irish MPs in the House of Commons – the vast majority of which belong to the DUP, the party which entered into a deal with the Tories to prop up the government when Theresa May lost her overall majority last year.
His comments come as cabinet ministers remain at loggerheads over the crucial debate around what customs arrangement the UK will have with the EU after 29 March 2019.
Invited again by the BBC reporter to visit the border to understand people’s concerns, Rees-Mogg replied: “I don’t think my visiting the border is really going to give me a fundamental insight into the border beyond what one can get from studying it.”
Seamas O’Reilly, a local resident who crosses the border regularly, said he believed the Tory politician is “a threat to our economic security and my family’s security”, and said he was cultivating “a stupid person’s idea of a clever person” to aim for the Tory party leadership.
The 32-year-old writer said that the politician would “never suffer any of the consequences of these policies”.
“He is almost comically insulated from even the lowly life experiences of his parliamentary peers – let alone border citizens, fishermen, or factory workers in the North East.”
A spokesman for the pro-EU group Best for Britain also criticised Rees Mogg.
He said: “Saying you understand Northern Ireland by speaking to the DUP is like getting fashion tips from Vanilla Ice. How can you understand the impact of Brexit on people if you won’t even visit.
“Rees-Mogg said that only a phantom government want a Hard Border; but his ERG grouping say one thing and then push a plan that could mean the ressurrection of watch towers near the border.
“Two years down the line all Jacob Rees-Mogg has to offer is the idea to not do anything and act like all will be fine if we ignore the Irish border problem.
“Rees-Mogg is out of touch and this shows it. He looks foolish. He should visit the Border and see the impact of his ideological dogma on the people who live there.”
Brexit spokesperson for the SDLP, Labour’s sister party in Northern Ireland, Claire Hanna MLA, added: “Jacob Rees-Mogg apparently has no understanding of the complicated issues surrounding regulatory alignment and the border. He clearly doesn’t care either. Despite not visiting the border or listening to the views and concerns of those involved in trade, technology and business or those who live in border areas who will be overwhelmingly impacted by Brexit and the Tory Brexiteer attitude, he thinks he knows best.
“We can only assume that he thinks the general public are so stupid that they’ll believe what he says despite the facts saying otherwise. If there are different product standards or different trade regulations in Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland, a border will be required. Those are hard facts which hard Brexiteers can’t just wish away.”