Friday 19 July 2019

Boris Johnson admits he needs EU help to avoid hard Border

Fine Gael senator dismisses Brexit report from group of leading Tories as 'chasing unicorns'

Conservative Party leadership candidate Boris Johnson. Photo: Ben Birchall/PA Wire
Conservative Party leadership candidate Boris Johnson. Photo: Ben Birchall/PA Wire
Senator Neale Richmond. Picture: Tom Burke
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Boris Johnson admits he needs the EU's help to avoid a hard Border or crippling tariffs on trade under a no-deal Brexit.

In an exclusive interview with the BBC, he also said that he did "not believe for a moment" the UK would leave without a deal.

The favourite to be next UK prime minister said politics had "changed so much since March 29" which was the original deadline for the deal.

The former foreign secretary criticised the UK negotiating team for being the "authors of our own incarceration" in creating the backstop to prevent a hard Border on the island of Ireland.

And he insisted the EU should play a part in solving the Border conundrum, saying: "It's not just up to us."

But when picked up on what would enable the UK to avoid any Irish backstop, Mr Johnson could not name an existing technology.

"Let me tell you, there are abundant, abundant technical fixes that can be introduced to make sure that you don't have to have checks at the Border," he said.

"That's the crucial thing. And everybody accepts that there are ways you can check for the rules origin, there are ways you can check for compliance with EU goods and standards, of our goods standards."

Mr Johnson also insisted he would have an implementation period - despite this being part of Theresa May's deal, which he had earlier dismissed as "dead".

"The important thing is that there should be an agreement that the solution of the Border questions, the Irish Border, the Northern Irish Border questions, and all the facilitation that we want to produce to get that done.

"All those issues need to be tackled on the other side of October 31 during what's called the Implementation Period."

It came amid reports that Ireland is facing demands from six fellow EU countries to set out detailed plans on how it will manage a no-deal Brexit.

'The Daily Telegraph' today reports that a "gang of six" states - France, Germany, Belgium, Poland, Denmark and the Netherlands - are insisting that Ireland must set out in operational detail how it will protect EU borders.

The move comes as EU leaders bid farewell to Theresa May, who had consistently ruled out a no-deal exit, and prepare to welcome either Mr Johnson or Jeremy Hunt, both of whom have committed to leaving the EU without a deal as a last resort.

Both Tory leadership candidates have pledged to seek changes to the backstop, such as asking for it to be time-limited.

But the Irish Government, the European Commission and EU leaders say the existing Withdrawal Agreement cannot be reopened.

A separate UK report setting out how "alternative arrangements" to the Brexit backstop could be introduced within three years has been dismissed as "yet another product from the land of unicorn chasers".

The Alternative Arrangements Commission (AAC) claims to have found a combination of measures that will help avoid a hard Border in Ireland.

The group, which is chaired by senior Tories, says the new way of facilitating cross-country trade would be expensive but would also protect the Good Friday Agreement.

However, Fine Gael senator Neale Richmond has rubbished the report, saying: "If anything, it underlines even more the importance of having the backstop in the Withdrawal Agreement as an insurance policy to protect the Good Friday Agreement."

The Irish Independent has also learned that the group approached Revenue authorities here about the plans, but was rebuffed.

A spokesperson for the Revenue Commissioners said their role "is to implement Government policy and advise the Government on tax and customs matters".

They confirmed contact was made by the AAC but "Brexit negotiations are a matter for the EU and the UK, and Revenue has no role in relation to the commission's research".

In its interim report the AAC suggested that if the British and Irish governments began work on the project today, then it would be possible to put a 2022 time limit on the backstop. The Irish Government has repeatedly ruled out an end date for the backstop.

Irish Independent

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