Jacob Rees-Mogg has sparked anger after footage from 2016 in which he calls for people to be “inspected” crossing the Irish border after Brexit in the same way as “during the Troubles” has come to light.
The Irish deputy prime minister, Simon Coveney, attacked the “ill-informed” comment, saying on Twitter: “We have left ‘the Troubles’ behind us, through the sincere efforts of many, and we intend on keeping it that way.”
And Lord Deben, the former Conservative cabinet minister, said: “Mr Rees-Mogg seems utterly unable to understand how dangerous and irresponsible are his views.
“Nothing must get in the way of his doctrinal determination to get UK out of the EU; neither current facts nor historical reality; neither sense nor sensitivity.”
But, speaking in a debate on the referendum at the University of Sussex in April 2016, Mr Rees-Mogg suggested bringing back “historic arrangements” to avoid a loophole that would allow people to get into the UK.
“There would be our ability, as we had during the Troubles, to have people inspected,” said the leading hard Brexiteer.
“It’s not a border that everyone has to go through every day. But, of course, for security reasons during the Troubles, we kept a very close eye on the border to try and stop gun-running and things like that.
“It’s not inconsistent to have a border that people can pass through but you are keeping an eye on.”
Mr Coveney highlighted the clip on Twitter, saying: “It’s hard to believe that a senior politician is so ill informed about Ireland and the politics of the Brexit Irish border issue that he could make comments like these.”
Lord Adonis, the former Labour cabinet minister and anti-Brexit campaigner, tweeted: “Last month he said the answer was for Ireland to leave the EU too. Despicable. Irresponsible. Very sad.”
Tory supporters of a hard Brexit have repeatedly been criticised for suggesting it is not the UK’s responsibility to avoid the return of a hard border in Ireland.
The position has enraged the Irish government, which has secured the EU’s backing that a return to border posts and checks must be prevented at all costs.
Michel Barnier, the EU’s Brexit negotiator, has attempted to ease tensions by saying the EU is “ready to improve the text of our proposal with the UK”.
However, he is expected to stick to the proposal of effectively keeping Northern Ireland in the customs union and part of the single market, if no other solution can be found.
Ms May has ruled that out as unacceptable because it would be “annexing” part of the UK, by creating a border down the Irish Sea.
- An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported that Jacob Rees-Moggs' comments on the Irish border had been made at a recent town hall meeting. They were in fact made in April 2016, prior to the referendum, at the University of Sussex.
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