Monday 17 December 2018

'Time to point out the iceberg ahead' - Boris Johnson tells DUP conference UK on 'verge of historic mistake'

Conservative MP Boris Johnson speaks at the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) annual party conference in Belfast, Northern Ireland November 24, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne
Conservative MP Boris Johnson speaks at the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) annual party conference in Belfast, Northern Ireland November 24, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne
DUP Leader Arlene Foster and Deputy Leader Nigel Dodds talk to the media at a news conference at Stormont in Belfast, Northern Ireland

David Young

Boris Johnson has called for the Irish border backstop to be "junked" as he warned that the draft Brexit deal was in danger of turning Northern Ireland into an "economic semi-colony" of the EU.

The arch Brexiteer and former foreign secretary received a warm welcome at the DUP conference in Belfast as he demanded the scrapping of the contentious proposal that could see Northern Ireland aligned with EU regulatory rules post-Brexit.

After a week that saw the DUP refuse to support the Government in Commons votes to signal their anger at the draft withdrawal text, Mr Johnson stressed the need to maintain the Conservatives' "crucial" confidence and supply deal going forward, warning of ruinous consequences for the UK if Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn came to power.

"And so to our allies in the DUP, I hope that you agree that it is absolutely vital that we keep this partnership going and that we are not so complacent as to abandon the government of this country to a man whose avowed policy is to break up this country," he said.

"And we should work together to ensure that the whole UK - Northern Ireland included - can seize the opportunities of Brexit."

Mr Johnson said the UK was on the verge of "making a historic mistake".

"If we are not careful, we are going to stay in the customs union, we are going to stay in the single market, we are going to be rules takers," he said.

"Unless we junk this backstop, we will find that Brussels has got us exactly where they want us - a satellite state.

"We will continue to accept the terms under which they have a surplus in trade in goods with us of £95 billion. But with no power, no British influence on those terms. We won't be able to do free trade deals of any value or significance."

Mr Johnson said the EU had achieved a "very clever trick" by making Northern Ireland an "indispensable bargaining chip" in future negotiations, noting the reference to the potential need to label goods from Northern Ireland UK (NI) under the backstop proposal.

"Indeed if you read the Withdrawal Agreement you can see that we are witnessing the birth of a new country called Ukni," he said.

"Ukni is no longer exclusively ruled by London or Stormont. Ukni is in large part to be ruled by Brussels.

"And Ukni will have to accept large swathes of EU regulations now and in the future.

"On lawnmower noise, on the labelling of sardines, on the use of coins and tokens that may be deemed to resemble a Euro.

"And on the use of personal recreational watercraft. And nowhere has a more illustrious history than Northern Ireland when it comes to the creation of recreational watercraft.

"The Titanic springs to mind, and now is the time to point out the iceberg ahead."

Mr Johnson said the deal will would leave the UK facing a "Hobson's choice" of unthinkable options.

"If we wanted to do free trade deals, if we wanted to cut tariffs or vary our regulation, then we would have to leave Northern Ireland behind as an economic semi-colony of the EU and we would be damaging the fabric of the union," he said.

"With regulatory checks and even customs controls between GB and NI on top of those extra regulatory checks down the Irish sea that are already envisaged in the Withdrawal Agreement.

"No British Conservative government could or should sign up to anything of the kind, and so our answer at the moment is rather desperately to make sure the whole UK stays in the backstop with the EU having the power to decide whether or not we can ever leave and why should they?"

Mr Johnson said the EU would have no incentive to let the UK leave the backstop arrangement, noting that the multibillion-pound divorce bill would have already been paid.

"This deal risks yet further economic and political humiliation," he added.

"We are locking ourselves in by treaty and making it impossible to negotiate our way out in the second half of the talks.

"This is not what people of the United Kingdom voted for. It is self-evidently not taking back control of our laws."

Mr Johnson called for a "sensible agreement", but added: "We need to junk the backstop and agree that neither side will introduce a hard border in northern Ireland.

"Both governments have already been clear that they have no such intention, as Michel Barnier has said himself the technical solutions do exist, and the whole subject should be remitted to the discussion of the future economic partnership where it properly belongs."

He again argued for a "super Canada" style trade deal with the EU, and urged a rethink on the timeframe for paying the divorce bill, arguing that half should be withheld until 2020.

"I have never known a major EU negotiation not to conclude with the financial settlement, and we need to restore the proper order and incentives," he explained.

Mr Johnson said there was a need for a dedicated Government secretary of state with responsibility for planning for a potential no deal, which would see the UK operate under World Trade Organisation trading terms.

He added: "We need urgently to recover our confidence and our self-belief, and to stop treating Brexit as if it were a plague of frogs, or a murrain on our cattle, or some adverse weather event that had to be managed."

The former foreign secretary also used his speech to again call for a bridge linking Northern Ireland and Scotland.

"It is a far shorter distance than that covered by some bridges these days - look at Shanghai to Ningbo," he said.

"The problem is not the undersea Beaufort's dyke or lack of funds.

"The problem is an absence of political will."

Meanwhile, DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds has told the Prime Minister it is not too late to bin her Brexit deal.

Mr Dodds used his speech to the DUP conference to urge Theresa May to change course, warning that the proposed Withdrawal Agreement would see the UK assume a "pitiful and pathetic place".

Mr Dodds insisted the union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland was "non negotiable".

"It is still not too late for the Prime Minister to change course," he said.

Press Association

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