One of the most influential figures in global trade has said that if the North became "autonomous customs territory" after Brexit, it could rule out the need for a new border with the South.

Pascal Lamy, who is a former Director General of the World Trade Organisation, made the comments in Dublin at the weekend where he was speaking to the Institute of International and European Affairs.

"If I'm in business I don't mind the legalities or the politics, I want easy trade," he said.

"Let's look for the least disruptive option. I don't have a magic wand but we will need to invent something."

Mr Lamy said a customs border at sea ports, instead of a new land border, would be cheaper and easier to enforce. His proposal would mean that the North would continue to mirror or implement EU trade and customs policy, so avoiding the need for a land border in Ireland. This could lead to new trade restrictions between the North and Great Britain - the North's largest external market.

Unionists and the Conservative Party have so far resisted the idea of a sea border between the island of Ireland and Britain.

'Unique'

But the Sinn Fein MEP Martina Anderson said 'more and more people' were recognising that the North requires a unique solution to the challenges presented by the Tory Brexit agenda.

Responding to Mr Lamy's comments, Ms Anderson said: "People are realising that there can be so such thing as a frictionless border on the island of Ireland.

"Flexible and imaginative solutions need to be explored and discussed in order to avoid the imposition of an EU frontier on our island. Sinn Féin has put forward a credible proposal with our case for the North to secure special status within the EU, and support for that position is growing across Ireland and throughout Europe.

"We now need to see the British government coming forward with solutions that recognise the unique situation in the north and respect the majority who voted to remain in the EU.

"We also need to see the Irish government standing up for the interests of Irish citizens in the north by making special status a priority in the ongoing Brexit negotiations."

The SDLP welcomed Mr Lamy's 'autonomy' proposal and said it would allow for the free movement of people and goods on the island.

The partly leader Colum Eastwood described the plan as 'part of a unique solution'

Speaking to the Derry News, Mr Eastwood said: "The comments by the former Director General of the WTO are a helpful reality check for those who continue to sell the fantasy and fiction that we can maintain an open border if the North is dragged out of the Customs Union and the Single Market.

"The suggestion of an ‘autonomous customs union’ for the North is a credible and workable solution in order to maintain access and free flow across this island and into the European Union.

"It is one part of a unique solution which would recognise the unique circumstances of the North.

"Those who ignore the need for those unique solutions are ignoring reality. There are over 275 border crossing stretching along the 300-mile border from Derry to Dundalk – it is not politically or technically possible to enforce it."

Mr Eastwood added that the structures of the Good Friday Agreement already offer the "architecture to solve many of the Brexit challenges".

He said: "Strands 2 and 3, on the North South and East West relationships, as well as some of the implementation bodies, offer licence to produce the 'flexible and imaginative solutions’ we're hearing so much about.

"In particular post-Brexit, the North-South structures could come into their own - ensuring that we are not cut off from the broader island economy and the European Union.

"If the DUP don’t end up liking these realistic solutions, then they shouldn’t have argued for Brexit in the first place.

"The complete disarray of the British Government means that we must propose, build and implement an Irish solution to the Brexit problem."

At the heart of that solution is the understanding that there can never again be a border established across this island against our will.

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