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Boris Johnson on Northern Ireland: 'It’s beyond belief that we’re allowing the tail to wag the dog'

The Foreign Secretary said that so few people use the Irish border that it didn’t warrant concerns about customs arrangements.

Johnson was the keynote speaker at Conservative Way Forward's summer reception at the Institute of Directors on Wednesday night.
Johnson was the keynote speaker at Conservative Way Forward's summer reception at the Institute of Directors on Wednesday night.
Image: Stefan Rousseau via PA Images

UK FOREIGN SECRETARY Boris Johnson has said that he thinks the concerns about the negative effects Brexit could have are over exaggerated, and said that it’s “beyond belief” that relations in Northern Ireland are dictating the debate.

In an audio recording obtained by Buzzfeed News, Johnson said that concerns about the Irish border were “pure millennium bug stuff” and referenced “planes falling from the sky”.

It’s so small and there are so few firms that actually use that border regularly, it’s just beyond belief that we’re allowing the tail to wag the dog in this way.

We’re allowing the whole of our agenda to be dictated by this folly.”

The UK government has said that it wants to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland and that it will honour the Good Friday Agreement. But it has also said that it will leave the single market and the customs union, which would warrant customs checks and passport verification on traffic between Northern Ireland and the Republic after Brexit.

This has prompted the European Union, the Irish government and other political commentators to ask how the two could coexist. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has repeatedly called for the UK to suggest a proposal – yesterday they published a legal text that aims to solve the customs arrangements between the North and Republic. (Initial criticisms of the text have called it unclear.)

Reacting today, Tánaiste Simon Coveney said the UK Brexit paper published yesterday is a “step forward”. He said essentially the paper outlines that there will be a temporary customs arrangement “until something better can be agreed”.

While the UK government has proposed that a “backstop” plan be put in place should there be no Brexit border deal would end in 2021, Coveney said it is not a definitive end date.

He added that it is an “aspirational date”.

Technology at the border

UK negotiator David Davis has suggested that technology could solve the border issue through tracking the movement of people and goods, but critics have said that that technology doesn’t exist yet.

Johnson compared the ability of people to use Oyster cards to tag on and off as a possible solution to the Irish border issue.

In other parts of the audio tapes recorded at a private gathering, Johnson said that it was worth considering how controversial US President Donald Trump would approach negotiations with the EU.

He said that his admiration for Trump had grown and that he’s of the opinion that “there is method in his madness”.

Imagine Trump doing Brexit – what would he do? He’d go bloody hard.
There’d be all sorts of breakdowns, all sorts of chaos. Everyone would think he’d gone mad. But actually you might get somewhere. It’s a very, very good thought.

Leo Varadkar is visiting Northern Ireland today, and is scheduled to visit the Orange Order Museum and launch the Féile an Phobail festival. This is his sixth visit to the North as Taoiseach and the first visit by a serving Taoiseach to the Orange Order Museum.

Brexit talks have reinvigorated discussions around a united Ireland, as it would allow the North to remain in the European Union. (Northern Ireland benefits hugely from EU funding and grants, mostly for the agriculture sector.)

A BBC News opinion poll has put support for a united Ireland at 42.1%, with 45% wanting to remain in the UK and 12.7% saying they don’t know.

With reporting by Christina Finn

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