Boris Johnson: 'No need for a hard border'

Boris Johnson speaking at Pendulum Summit. Photos: Sam Boal/

Former British foreign secretary and prominent Brexiteer, Boris Johnson, insists there is "no need for a hard border" even if Britain crashes out of the EU without a deal - adding that he never thought the backstop was a real concept.

Following a combative exchange with veteran RTÉ journalist, Bryan Dobson, at the Pendulum Summit in Dublin, Mr Johnson denied he has performed a so-called flip-flop on supporting the UK and EU agreement last December on a backstop to avoid a hard border in Ireland.

Reminded he had offered enthusiastic congratulations to Prime Minister, Theresa May following the December agreement, only to resign months later, Mr Johnson defended his position.

Mr Dobson said: "You were a member of the Cabinet. You were not just supportive (of the December deal) but were giddy with excitement. By July, you were out of Government, saying it was a threat to national sovereignty."

Mr Johnson responded that he did not truly believe in the backstop when the December agreement was signed: "I believed perhaps naively that I could make a difference within the Cabinet. I believed the backstop was just a form of words, a convenient fiction that had to be endured until such time as we could sort it out.

"What then happened, of course, was the Chequers agreement which enshrines the consequences of it," the former Mayor of London said.

Mr Johnson was pressed on his knowledge of the economic impact of a Irish border, with which he confessed he was not familiar.

At one point, he snatched Mr Dobson's preparatory notes on the trading relationship between the Republic and the North in order to find the answers to the questions the RTÉ host was asking repeatedly.

It is unlikely and unnecessary for the UK to revert to WTO rules of tariffs in the event of Britain crashing out without a deal in March, Mr Johnson said, despite expert opinion to the contrary.

Most people want access to the single market, but EU regulations are costing Britain up to 7% of GDP, he insisted.

Ms May's deal is "terrible for the UK", Mr Johnson said.

Mr Johnson had earlier laid out his vision to the thousands in attendance at the Convention Centre in Dublin, joking that he had deliberately gone overlong in his speech in order to avoid a grilling from Mr Dobson.

He called reports of firms and Government departments stockpiling goods "scaremongering", and described the so-called "Project Fear making a nonsense out of leaving the EU".

He called for a closer relationship between Britain and Ireland, saying the nations could forge a deal of cooperation on concepts such as trade.

"No matter what nonsense the prophets of doom may speak, I know together we can organise it," Mr Johnson said.

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