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Leaked Boris letter to Downing St: It is wrong to see the task as maintaining 'no border'

The British Foreign Secretary has written a letter to Theresa May about the border issue.

Updated at 8.20pm 

BORIS JOHNSON HAS told Prime Minister Theresa May ”it is wrong to see the task as maintaining ‘no border’” on the island of Ireland in the wake of Brexit.

The British Foreign Secretary’s letter to Downing Street was leaked to Sky News.

According to the broadcaster, the letter also seeks to play down the “exaggerated impression” of “how important checks are” at EU borders.

Although the UK has made assurances that there will not be a border between Ireland and Northern Ireland after Brexit, it has not yet offered a solution whereby it could leave the single market and customs union yet maintain no border checks.

In his letter, Johnson apparently goes as far as considering the reintroduction of a hard border, telling May:

Even if a hard border is reintroduced, we would expect to see 95% + of goods pass the border [without] checks.

The EU’s draft of the planned Brexit divorce agreement will be unveiled tomorrow.

RTÉ’s Tony Connolly is reporting this evening that the territory of Northern Ireland may be considered part of EU customs territory post-Brexit.

Connolly reports that the text will allude to a single regulatory space on the island of Ireland with no internal barriers.

Tomorrow’s divorce agreement will spell out in detail the agreement reached between the EU and the UK in December on three key topics: the fate of expatriate citizens and the financial settlement of divorce will be included as well as the future of the Irish border.

EU negotiator Michel Barnier has acknowledged the 120-page draft would “render operational” a controversial ‘backstop’ opposed by London on the issue of how to avoid a hard border between the Republic and the North.

The fallback option says that if no better solution is found, Northern Ireland would remain in “full alignment” with the EU’s single market and customs union in order to uphold the Good Friday Agreement.

“The Irish question cannot remain unresolved,” Barnier said today.

‘Interesting few weeks’

Speaking in response to a question from Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald in the Dáil today, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said that the Irish government had, in the wake of the UK Brexit referendum, sought “an assurance from the United Kingdom that there would be no hard border and that everything possible would be done to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland”.

“We got that verbal assurance last year. We then sought to have that written down in black and white and made into a political agreement. We got that political agreement last December.

“Since then we have sought to turn the black and white text of the political agreement and commitment into a legal text which forms a protocol to the withdrawal agreement. The Deputy will see that legal text tomorrow.

I am satisfied that it sets down in law how we can avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.

He said, however, that the withdrawal agreement “is a draft text and we cannot automatically assume it will be acceptable to the United Kingdom or to all the parties in Northern Ireland”.

We could have an interesting few weeks ahead of us, as was the case last December. It will have to become a legal text by October this year.

Varadkar said that Tánaiste Simon Coveney had met Barnier this week and and had seen the draft legal text.

GettyImages-924879842 Boris Johnson arriving for a cabinet meeting at No 10 Downing Street today. Source: Jack Taylor/Getty Images

Earlier, Johnson was criticised for saying the Irish border issue could be solved in the same way that people travel across different boroughs of London.

He was speaking to BBC Radio about various Brexit issues, and highlighted methods used in the UK capital to calculate the city congestion charge as pointing the way towards solving the issue of the border after Brexit.

Johnson said: “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 two boroughs without any need for border checks whatever.

When it was put to the foreign minister that he couldn’t possibly compare the Irish border issue and the London congestion charge, Johnson was insistent, and called it a “very relevant comparison”.

“There’s all sorts of scope for pre-booking, electronic checks, all sorts of things that you can do to obviate the need for a hard border to allow us to come out of the customs union, take back control of our trade policy and do trade deals,” he said.

Fianna Fáil TD Stephen Donnelly called Johnson’s comments “extraordinary” and referenced his own time living in London.

He said: “I lived in Camden for several years, and was never stopped crossing the ‘border’ to Islington.

I have, however, had military rifles pointed at me when crossing into Northern Ireland in the 90s. Suggesting these borders are the same is extraordinary.

Sinn Féin’s David Cullinane said: “I would suspect that a basic knowledge of geography and borders would be a requirement of a foreign minister but it appears the Tory party has other ideas.

Boris Johnson’s comments today are so devoid of actual intelligence as to give a brain freeze to those unfortunate enough to hear them… Lest there be any doubt, the Irish border issue post-brexit is not the same as a city congestion charge.

A spokesman for foreign affairs minister Simon Coveney said he had no comment on the reported letter tonight.

- With reporting from Daragh Brophy 

Read: Jeremy Corbyn calls for new customs union with EU after Brexit

Read: ‘Pure illusion’: That was the EU’s withering assessment of Theresa May’s Brexit plan

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Sean Murray

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