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In Belfast, Johnson and Hunt talk about the 'unacceptable' backstop, and the 'indispensable' DUP

Boris Johnson said that the backstop represents “the incoherence of the [UK] strategy” in Brexit negotiations.

CANDIDATE FOR THE next British Prime Minister Jeremy Hunt has said that the disagreements over the backstop boil down to “a disagreement on what technology can do” and said a border in Northern Ireland can be avoided “with the technology we have”.

His opponent, and frontrunner in the race Boris Johnson said that the backstop represented the incoherence of the UK’s Brexit strategy, and that the UK’s draft deal with the EU was “a dead letter”.

The Tory party leadership hustings are taking place in Belfast today, with the two remaining candidates to become Tory party leader and British Prime Minister facing questions about their potential leaderships.

Responding to questions first, Foreign Secretary Hunt said that “I recognise we are never going to have a deal with the EU with a backstop – so it has to change or it has to go”.

“The principle that we shouldn’t have border infrastructure is accepted on all sides,” he said, adding that they couldn’t accept a backstop that would “traps us into following EU customs tariffs until the EU gives us permission to leave”.

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.

In response to the same question, Boris Johnson said that the backstop presents the UK Prime Minister with an “unacceptable choice” between “abandoning governing ourselves, or to give up control of the government of Northern Ireland, and that is clearly unacceptable”. 

The union comes first of course, but we should not be faced with that choice [between the two].

He added: “The Withdrawal Agreement, as it stands, is a dead letter.

The reasons why we have [the backstop] was with the support, if not the instigation, of the British side… the backstop represents is the incoherence of the [UK] strategy.

He said that the backstop represented both wanting to come out of the EU, and also remaining in alignment with the EU’s Custom Union and Single Market.

When asked what he thought of the politicians of Northern Ireland being paid and not taking their roles in Stormont, Hunt said: “It is totally unacceptable that are not turning up to work and doing their job” and that “this is a big abdication of their responsibility”.

Hunt said that the lesson that was learned from the success of the Good Friday Agreement was that the “personal involvement” of the Prime Minister was needed:

I will put in the time personally to get Stormont back up and running.

“Restore Stormont and get it over the line,” Johnson said. “I would do whatever I can personally to try to bring people together – it’s the citizens and voters of Northern Ireland who are being failed.”

Tory leadership race Source: Peter Morrison

Abortion and same-sex

When asked about whether Westminster would legalise for more liberal abortion laws and same-sex marriage, Hunt said: “If I was Northern Irish, I would want those changed.” 

He added that, “consensus in the province” was needed to move forward. 

I sincerely hope the law does change, but you need an element of social consent… All I was say is that opinions change, and change dramatically.

Johnson said that it was a matter for Northern Ireland, and encouraged those elected to the Stormont Assembly to come to an agreement.

“The forum to solve these difficult political questions” was Stormont.

Boris Johnson Source: Reuters

The DUP

Hunt was also asked what his views on the DUP were – he said that if he were to become Prime Minister, he would be open to doing a deal with them, but added:

We paid the money, and I would like them to do their bit and help us get a Brexit deal through – I’ll leave it at that.

Johnson described the DUP as “indispensable” in keeping the Tory party in power.

The Tory party currently has no MPs from Northern Ireland, and has an estimated 500 members in the region.

When asked whether the Conservative Party needs to “organise better” in Northern Ireland, Johnson said that “this looks pretty proper to me”.

For a light-hearted question at the end, both were asked which Game of Thrones character they identify with the most. Hunt said that if he had to, he’d choose Jon Snow, the hero of the hit television programme.

Boris Johnson said that he didn’t know the show well enough to answer, and was subsequently asked to choose a Star Wars character instead – after he made reference to the film franchise. 

I identify very much with the guy with the lightsaber. The Jedi Knights, yes… We invented the lightsaber in Uxbridge, and it’s wielded in Northern Ireland.

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