Has Boris ditched May’s border deal?
‘It would make free trade deals impossible’
Border deal has no legal basis Leo admits ‘some border inevitable’
BORIS Johnson has raised doubts that Ireland can avoid a hard border, saying it would be ‘intolerable’ and ‘undemocratic’ for the UK to follow EU rules after leaving the bloc.
Delivering the first in a series of planned speeches from the UK Cabinet setting out Britain’s aims for Brexit, the Foreign Secretary said it would be ‘mad’ to end up with a Brexit settlement that does not allow the UK to enjoy the ‘economic freedoms’ of leaving the European Union.
In a deal agreed at the end of phase one of the Brexit talks in December, the British government said it would attempt to avoid a hard border through an overall EU-UK Brexit deal. If this did not provide a solution, British prime minister Theresa May promised to maintain ‘full alignment’ of customs rules in the UK as in the EU.
But yesterday, Mr Johnson appeared to completely ignore this commitment and insisted that the UK should not remain locked into alignment with Brussels. He also failed to mention Ireland or the border once in his 4,000-word speech.
He said: ‘It is only by taking back control of our laws that UK firms and entrepreneurs will have the freedom to innovate, without the risk of having to comply with some directive devised by Brussels, at the urgings of some lobby group, with the aim of holding back a UK competitor. That would be intolerable, undemocratic, and would make it all but impossible for us to do serious free trade deals.’
He added that ‘it may very well make sense’ to remain in alignment with EU standards on some products – but that commitment should not be written in to the Brexit deal. A source close to the Taoiseach played down the speech and said Mr Johnson was ‘trying to put a gloss on the Leave position, as you would expect him to do’.
Speaking in the Dáil yesterday, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar admitted for the first time that some form of border will be inevitable if the UK proceeds with that plan ‘and does not replace them with a new arrangement that is very similar or close to them’.
He said if that happened, Ireland would trigger the ‘backstop’, which was agreed in December, demanding full alignment with EU rules. But that deal currently has no legal basis, despite claims from the Taoiseach at the time that it was ‘bulletproof’. Fianna Fáil said any chance of regulatory alignment looks unlikely in light of Boris’s speech.
The party’s Brexit spokesman Stephen Donnelly told the Irish Daily Mail: ‘The December agreement was overhyped and oversold by Leo Varadkar for shortterm political gain.
‘He told us it was cast iron and bulletproof. Well, the protections it offers are looking pretty shaky now. Full alignment looks unlikely, and the Boris Johnson speech is relevant to that. He has explained in some detail that the UK wants divergence.’
He added: ‘I think it’s very relevant that the Taoiseach said for the first time that border checks are inevitable if the UK leaves the Customs Union and Single Market. How do you stop the UK from doing exactly what it wants to do? Everything they have said so far indicates that there will be border checks.’
He questioned how the backstop would be enforced if the UK is outside the jurisdiction of the EU, Mr Donnelly called Mr Johnson’s speech ‘insulting and reckless’.
A source in the Department of Foreign Affairs has played down the speech’s significance.
‘It’s not a surprise to us that Ireland wasn’t mentioned in the speech,’ the source said. ‘The most important thing for us is that Theresa May told the Taoiseach on Monday that the December agreement still holds, and that was said face to face, not in any speech.’