Has Boris ditched May’s bor­der deal?

‘It would make free trade deals im­pos­si­ble’

Irish Daily Mail - - News - By James Ward Po­lit­i­cal Correspondent james.ward@dai­ly­mail.ie

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.’

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