Boris Johnson has declared he will not “implement” or “enact” checks on goods from Northern Ireland to Great Britain despite arrangements for customs controls under the Brexit deal he agreed last month with the EU.
In a visit to Northern Ireland, he told business representatives that elements of his Brexit deal related to exports from the region were greatly “misunderstood” and did not involve physical checks of goods.
But the prime minister was himself accused of misunderstanding the deal he negotiated as video of his speech appeared online.
The issue goes to the heart of the collapse of the government’s relations with the Democratic Unionist party, which has branded the Brexit deal a “disgrace” because of the new customs paperwork local businesses selling goods to Great Britain will be required to complete.
On a flying visit to a Tayto crisp factory in Tandragee, County Armagh, Johnson insisted his critics had got the wrong end of the stick.
He said: “There will not be checks, and I speak as the prime minister of the United Kingdom, and a passionate unionist. There will not be checks on goods going from Northern Ireland to Great Britain because we’re the government of the United Kingdom and we will not institute or implement or enact such checks.
“The idea that Tayto crisps from Tandragee are going be vetted by some process is just nonsense.”
His remarks were met with incredulity as the video of his speech went viral overnight. Anna Jerzewska, a customs expert, pointed out the customs controls were in the Brexit deal to facilitate the international trade deals Johnson wants while keeping the Irish border open.
The checks and new paperwork would be needed to ensure goods from the Republic of Ireland were not smuggled into Britain through Northern Ireland.
Jonathan Portes, professor of economics and public policy at King’s College, London, said Johnson’s remarks showed he did not understand his own Brexit deal.
The DUP has condemned the arrangements in Johnson’s Brexit deal as a “disgrace” and a “betrayal” of Northern Ireland.
It says the new paperwork required to accompany goods going from Northern Ireland into Great Britain is an unacceptable breach of the promise that there would be “unfettered” access to GB for manufacturers in Northern Ireland.
The paperwork would be part of a special arrangement in which Northern Ireland would remain in the UK customs territory but follow EU customs codes on some goods transiting into Great Britain.
Johnson and his ministers have struggled to explain what this paperwork is despite being pressed several times during heated exchanges in parliament and in select committees in October. Johnson has previously said businesses should not be worried because it merely involved “administrative processes”, rather than physical checks.
Local businesses groups have called for an urgent working group to establish what the paperwork is precisely but have said they believe a deal can be hammered out to ensure it is minimal.
Johnson told businesses on Thursday night: “Actually Northern Ireland has got a great deal. You keep free movement, you keep access to the single market and, as it says in the deal, [you keep] unfettered access to the UK.”
The prime minister also criticised the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, over the possibility of referendums on Scottish independence and EU withdrawal.
He said: “Another turgid, torpid, toxic appalling EU referendum, which is the last thing we need.”
Johnson reiterated his fervent dedication to the union and said he had really good relations with the DUP leaders Arlene Foster and Nigel Dodds.
Click Here: West Coast Eagles Guernsey