Downing Street slaps down Boris Johnson's claim backstop border would lead to Brexit 'write-off'

Downing Street slaps down Boris Johnson's claim backstop border would lead to Brexit 'write-off'
Theresa May with Boris Johnson (Leon Neal/PA)

Downing Street has slapped down Boris Johnson after he warned that Britain was heading for a “spectacular political car-crash” if the Government stuck to Theresa May’s plans for Brexit.

The former UK foreign secretary’s warning came as Mrs May gave one of her most positive forecasts yet for Britain’s future after Brexit, telling the BBC: “I believe that our best days are ahead of us.”

Asked in an interview for Panorama, asked why she thought Brexit would be good for Britain, she replied: “It gives the United Kingdom opportunities as an independent and sovereign state to build a better future for all our people.”

But Mr Johnson warned that, unless Mrs May’s Chequers plan was dropped, Britain was “heading full throttle for the ditch with a total write-off of Brexit”.

Requirements for a “backstop” arrangement at the Irish border, contained in December’s agreement between Mrs May and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, would leave the UK a “vassal state” of the EU, the former UK foreign secretary warned.

In his regular column for the Daily Telegraph, Mr Johnson claimed that he and others had been “taken in” over the EU’s fallback option, having been privately assured at the time that it would never be invoked.

But Number 10 pointed out that Mr Johnson had himself signed up to the joint report agreed by Mrs May and Mr Juncker, including the backstop provision, and had remained in government for a further seven months afterwards.

The British Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “Boris Johnson was a member of the cabinet which agreed to the December joint report, including the backstop.

“At the time, he congratulated the Prime Minister for her determination in securing the deal.

“He remained in Government for a full seven months after the joint report was agreed. He was also a member of the cabinet sub-committee which agreed the UK’s proposed customs backstop.”

Although she is signed up to the principle of a backstop if no better arrangement can be agreed, Mrs May has robustly rejected the version put forward by Brussels, which would see the North remain within the EU customs area and effectively draw a customs border down the Irish Sea.

However, Mr Johnson denounced alternative plans set out by the British PM as a “constitutional abomination” which would leave Britain as a “humiliated rules-taker”.

Mr Johnson has backed proposals by the pro-Brexit European Research Group that physical checks can be done away from the border, without keeping the UK or the North tied to EU customs rules.

And it has been reported that the EU is preparing to accept use of technology to avoid the need for new border infrastructure.

Writing in The Daily Telegraph, Mr Johnson said: “If the Brexit negotiations continue on this path they will end, I am afraid, in a spectacular political car crash.”

“If we are to get out of this mess, and get the great British motor back on track, then we need to understand the Irish backstop, and how it is being used to coerce the UK into becoming a vassal state of Brussels,” he added.

The EU’s backstop would leave a border down the Irish sea while the UK’s proposal left it “volunteering” to “remain effectively in the customs union and large parts of the single market until Brussels says otherwise”, Mr Johnson said.

Mrs May said there are only two possible solutions – the Chequers plan, or no deal (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)
Mrs May said there are only two possible solutions – the Chequers plan, or no deal (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

“Both versions of the backstop are disastrous,” he wrote.

“One threatens the union; the other version, and its close cousin, Chequers, keep us effectively in the EU, as humiliated rules takers.

“We need to challenge the assumptions of both these Irish backstops, or we are heading full throttle for the ditch with a total write-off of Brexit.

“We are straining at the gnat of the Irish border problem, in fact we haven’t even tried to chew the gnat, and we are swallowing the camel of EU membership in all but name.”

Speaking to Panorama, Mrs May said there needs to be “friction-free” movement of goods across the Irish border, without customs or regulatory checks between the UK and EU, after Brexit.

Michel Barnier is seeking to harness new technology to minimise potential border checks (Niall Carson/PA)
Michel Barnier is seeking to harness new technology to minimise potential border checks (Niall Carson/PA)

“The only proposal that’s been put forward that delivers on them not having a hard border and ensures that we don’t carve up the United Kingdom, is the Chequers plan,” she said.

Mrs May also said she believes Parliament will vote for a deal to maintain a good trading relationship with the EU and co-operation on other matters.

But she cast doubt on whether the EU would offer a better deal if MPs rejected it, adding: “I believe we’ll get a good deal, we’ll bring that back from the EU negotiations, put that to Parliament.

“I think the alternative to that will be not having a deal because a) I don’t think the negotiations will have that deal, and b) we’re leaving on March 29 2019.”

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier is drafting a new “protocol” text that includes the use of technology to minimise checks at the Irish border, according to The Times.

Diplomatic notes seen by the paper state: “The biggest unsolved problem is Northern Ireland.

“There is a political mobilisation in the UK in this regard. Therefore, we are trying to clarify the EU position.”

- Press Association

Downing Street slaps down Boris Johnson's claim backstop border would lead to Brexit 'write-off'

Earlier: Britain 'straining at the gnat of the Irish border problem', Boris Johnson warns

Britain is heading full throttle for a total write-off of Brexit if it continues with Theresa May’s disastrous plans for the Irish border, Boris Johnson has claimed.

The backstop deadlock is being used to force the UK into becoming a vassal state and the talks are on course to end in a “spectacular political car crash”, according to the former British foreign secretary.

Mr Johnson said the European Union’s fallback position for the Irish border would mean Northern Ireland was “annexed” by Brussels.

Alternative plans set out by Mrs May would “effectively” keep Britain in the bloc, he added.

However, the UK PM has said the counter-proposal to her Chequers plan is “still a hard border” and hers is the only way that does not “carve up the United Kingdom”.

Mrs May also warned that the only alternative to Parliament passing her proposals would be no-deal.

It has been reported that the EU is preparing to accept use of technology to avoid the need for new border infrastructure.

Mr Johnson has backed proposals by the pro-Brexit European Research Group that physical checks can be done away from the border, without keeping the UK or Northern Ireland tied to EU customs rules.

Writing in The Daily Telegraph, he said: “If the Brexit negotiations continue on this path they will end, I am afraid, in a spectacular political car crash.”

“If we are to get out of this mess, and get the great British motor back on track, then we need to understand the Irish backstop, and how it is being used to coerce the UK into becoming a vassal state of Brussels,” he added.

“The EU’s backstop would leave a border down the Irish sea while the UK’s proposal left it “volunteering” to “remain effectively in the customs union and large parts of the single market until Brussels says otherwise”, Mr Johnson said.

Mrs May said there are only two possible solutions – the Chequers plan, or no deal (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)
Mrs May said there are only two possible solutions – the Chequers plan, or no deal (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

“Both versions of the backstop are disastrous,” he wrote. “One threatens the union; the other version – and its close cousin, Chequers – keep us effectively in the EU, as humiliated rules takers.

“We need to challenge the assumptions of both these Irish backstops, or we are heading full throttle for the ditch with a total write-off of Brexit.

“We are straining at the gnat of the Irish border problem – in fact we haven’t even tried to chew the gnat – and we are swallowing the camel of EU membership in all but name.”

Mrs May said there needs to be “friction-free” movement of goods across the Irish border, without customs or regulatory checks between the UK and EU, after Brexit.

She said that the counter-proposal will not “solve the issue of no hard border by having a hard border 20km inside Ireland”.

“The people of Northern Ireland deserve to be listened to in these negotiations by the UK Government, as do people elsewhere in this country,” she told the BBC.

“I want to ensure that as we go forward we have that strong union… Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom. They don’t want a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.

Mr Barnier is seeking to harness new technology to minimise potential border checks (Niall Carson/PA)
Mr Barnier is seeking to harness new technology to minimise potential border checks (Niall Carson/PA)

“The only proposal that’s been put forward that delivers on them not having a hard border and ensures that we don’t carve up the United Kingdom, is the Chequers plan.”

Mrs May also said she believes Parliament will vote for a deal to maintain a good trading relationship with the EU and cooperation on other matters.

But she cast doubt on whether the EU would offer a better deal if MPs rejected it, adding: “I believe we’ll get a good deal, we’ll bring that back from the EU negotiations, put that to Parliament.

“I think the alternative to that will be not having a deal because a) I don’t think the negotiations will have that deal, and b) we’re leaving on March 29 2019.”

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier is drafting a new “protocol” text that includes the use of technology to minimise checks at the Irish border, according to The Times.

Diplomatic notes seen by the paper state: “The biggest unsolved problem is Northern Ireland.

“There is a political mobilisation in the UK in this regard. Therefore, we are trying to clarify the EU position.”

- Press Association

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