- Boris Johnson compares the Irish border to border checks between London boroughs.
- “There’s no border between Camden and Westminster,” the foreign secretary told BBC Radio 4.
- Johnson also said “excessive” checks between Northern Ireland and the Republic can be avoided but did not repeat a previous government commitment to “frictionless” trade.
LONDON – Boris Johnson today insisted there will not be any need for a hard Irish border after Brexit because there is no hard border between the London boroughs of Camden and Westminster.
Speaking to the Today programme on Tuesday morning, the foreign secretary suggested British and EU negotiators could seek inspiration from London, where congestion charges are automatically applied to commuters driving into central London.
“You know, there’s no border between Islington, Camden and Westminister,” Johnson told the BBC’s Mishal Husain.
“There’s no border between Camden and Westminster but when I was Mayor of London we anaesthetically and invisibly took hundreds of millions of pounds from the accounts of people travelling between those boroughs without any need for border checks whatever.”
Husain challenged Johnson’s comparison. “Come on, you can’t compare boroughs of London with the kind of difference in arrangements that would be in place after Brexit between the UK and the EU,” the Today host said.
However, the foreign secretary refused to back down.
“I think it’s a very relevant comparison. There is all sorts of scope for pre-booking, electronic checks and things you can do to obviate the need for a hard border.”
Watch Boris: ‘There’s no border between Camden and Westminster”
"There's no border between Camden and Westminster."
— BBC Radio 4 Today (@BBCr4today) February 27, 2018
Johnson also appeared to row back on the UK government’s previous commitment to maintaining “frictionless” trade between Northern Ireland and the Republic, saying that “excessive” checks can be avoided.
“We think we can have very efficient facilitation systems to make sure there’s no need for a hard border and excessive checks on the frontier between Northern Ireland and the Republic,” the foreign secretary said.
Labour MP Chris Leslie, who is part of the anti-hard Brexit group Open Britain, described Johnson’s remarks as “ridiculous” and accused the foreign secretary of failing to understand the Irish border issue.
“Now we know why Boris Johnson didn’t mention the problem of the Irish border once in his big Brexit speech last week: because he simply doesn’t understand it,” Leslie said.
“To compare the border between two sovereign states, the UK and the Republic of Ireland, to the boundaries between different London boroughs is not only patently ridiculous but also shows staggering insensitivity and a stupefying ignorance of a conflict in which over 3,000 people died between 1969 and the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.
“Boris Johnson’s tenure as Foreign Secretary and Brexit cheerleader shows he has the reverse Midas touch: everything he touches turns to muck.”
Johnson spoke to BBC Radio 4 amid widespread reports that the European Union will include in the legal text of the withdrawal agreement to be published on Wednesday, a clause which would keep Northern Ireland fully aligned to EU market and customs rules after Brexit if a solution to the border problem cannot be reached.
The text will say: “Northern Ireland is to stay in a de-facto customs union with the EU combined with alignment on trade in goods” if the Irish border cannot be resolved, a senior EU official told The Guardian.
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