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Boris Johnson says that if we can go to the moon, we can solve the Irish border problem

During his time as Foreign Secretary, Johnson compared concerns about the Irish border as “the tail wagging the dog.”

THE FRONTRUNNER IN the race to become the next British Prime Minister has said that if landing on the Moon was possible, then it’s possible to find a solution to the Irish border problem that has been cited as a stumbling block to Brexit.

In his regular Telegraph column, Johnson wrote today about how the technological obstacles that faced the astronauts as they tried to land in the moon 50 years ago.

In particular, he cites the computer on the Apollo spacecraft which ran on a hand-woven ‘code’ of wires and metal rings, as well as the bravery of the astronauts.

“And yet it was with the help of that computer, and with the gumption of those pilots, that the Americans were able to perform the quite incredible feat not just of landing on the moon, but of getting back in one piece.”

Johnson uses this as a basis to argue that technological solutions at the Irish border are possible, and seems to hint in favour of a deal: “We can come out of the EU on October 31, and yes, we certainly have the technology to do so.”

Technological solutions are only needed as an alternative to the backstop, which forms part of the Brexit deal. If there’s a no-deal Brexit, as Johnson has repeatedly promised to do if they can’t get a more favourable deal, customs posts will go up along the border. 

To date, the Withdrawal Agreement has been voted down three times by the House of Commons. The backstop is part of that Brexit deal, which provides for “regulatory alignment” if a future EU-UK trade deal would mean that there would be different rules on the island of Ireland and would require border customs checks.

Johnson has cited the backstop as his reason for voting against the deal for the first and second time; the third time he voted in favour of passing the deal, after Theresa May offered to stand down as Prime Minister if rebel Tory MPs voted for it.

Both Johnson has consistently been opposed to the backstop, saying it’s “unacceptable”: his opponent in the leadership race Jeremy Hunt has also said that the backstop would need to be removed from the Withdrawal Agreement. 

“The EU keep telling us the technology isn’t there – because they want us to stay inside the Customs Union. There’s a disagreement over what technology can do… I don’t think we need new technology, I think we can do it with the technology we have.”

Britain Conservatives Source: Frank Augstein

The EU and Irish government have said that they are open to other arrangements that would avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland – but say that it isn’t technically possible to do so. Even something as subtle as cameras along the border would be made into targets for dissidents, it’s argued, as they would symbolise a border on the island.

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During his time as Foreign Secretary, Johnson said that concerns about the Irish border were “pure millennium bug stuff”: “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.”

In his column today, Johnson argues: “At its core, the problem with leaving the EU is technical and logistical.

In order to come out of the EU customs union, and to maintain frictionless trade across the border in Northern Ireland (and indeed at Calais and elsewhere), we will need ways of checking goods for rules of origin, and whether they conform to the right standards, and whether or not they have been smuggled – but we have to do it away from the border, because no one can accept border controls in Northern Ireland.

He continues:

“It is absurd that we have even allowed ourselves to be momentarily delayed by these technical issues. If they could use hand-knitted computer code to make a frictionless re-entry to Earth’s atmosphere in 1969, we can solve the problem of frictionless trade at the Northern Irish border.”

There is no task so simple that government cannot overcomplicate if it doesn’t want to do it.

Ballots close in the Conservative leadership election this afternoon – the final result will be announced tomorrow. On Thursday, the House of Commons breaks for its summer recess, and will return on 3 September.

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