'We will have under no circumstances a hard border' - Boris Johnson tells Belfast
No Brexit deal possible with Irish backstop still in place - Jeremy Hunt
BORIS Johnson has said that "under no circumstances" would there be a hard border on the island of Ireland.
He was speaking in Belfast during an hustings event as he battles Jeremy Hunt to be leader of the Conservative Party - and the next UK Prime Minister
Britain's foreign minister Nr Hunt said it would be impossible to have a European Union withdrawal deal that included the current Irish backstop provision.
"I do recognise that we are never going to have a deal to leave the EU with the backstop, so it has to change or it has to go.
"We have to find a different solution and I think it will be a technology-led solution, what the Germans call an invisible border. Both sides agree that if technology can do this, it's the way forward."
The Irish backstop, which formed part of Prime Minister Theresa May's divorce deal from the EU that parliament rejected three times, is an insurance policy designed to prevent the return of a hard border between the Republic and Northern Ireland.
But it is comments by Mr Johnson that are likely to grab the headlines.
He told members in Belfast there will "under no circumstances" be a hard border on the island, saying the issue will be resolved in a free trade deal after Brexit.
He said: "Of course we need to sort out the problems of the Northern Irish border, where those problems should be sorted out in the context of the free trade deal that we are going to do when we have left on October 31.
"I think it's absolutely vital here in Northern Ireland to stress two things.
"Number one: that we will under no circumstances have a hard border. There will be no physical checks or infrastructure at the border in Northern Ireland.
"And number two: we will make sure we have an exit from the EU, a Brexit, that allows the whole UK to come out entire and undivided and we keep our union absolutely intact."
Mr Johnson has previously voiced support for building a bridge between Northern Ireland and Scotland.
Speaking before the hustings, he declined to commit to pushing ahead with the project if he became prime minister.
Mr Johnson said a restored Stormont executive would need to take the lead on the ambitious infrastructure proposal.
"One of the reasons why I am so keen for Stormont to be restarted as fast as possible and for the government of Northern Ireland to resume is so there can be proper democracy approval of great projects, infrastructure projects, anything like that that might be to the benefit of Northern Ireland.
"And I would like to see that government starting again so that people could consider whether or not they wish such a project to proceed."
He added: "Let's see what the government of Northern Ireland says when it's back up and running."
Mr Johnson said that if he became prime minister he would do everything he could to "energise" talks to restore devolved government at Stormont.
"I think they need to get back round the table as fast as possible. They need to be sorting this thing out. I would urge all sides to get on with it, restore Stormont," he said.
"I would do whatever I can personally to energise and direct the talks and try and bring people together.
"It is the citizens and voters of Northern Ireland who are losing out as a result of this failure to get together."
Mr Johnson was asked what he would do about the backstop breaching a fundamental tenet of the Good Friday Agreement by not having the support of most unionists.
"The backstop presents a prime minister of the UK with an absolutely unacceptable choice between abandoning our ability to govern ourselves, in the sense that the UK would have to submit to EU law on tariffs and EU law on regulations with no say on those laws, or alternative to give up control of the government of Northern Ireland and that is clearly unacceptable," he said.
"And that's a choice that I totally reject.
"The union comes first but I believe we should not be faced with that choice and the solution must be for the whole of the UK to come out in its entirety from the EU and to find the solutions that are needed for frictionless trade across the border in the context of the free trade deal.
"I think the Withdrawal Agreement, as it currently stands, is a dead letter.
"What the backstop really represents is the incoherence at the heart of the strategy we have been pursuing over the last few years.
"We've been wanting to come out of the EU supposedly whilst actually being prepared to stay in the customs union and full regulatory enlightenment, which is tantamount to coming out of the EU but being run by the EU."
More to follow...