Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt say alternative to Irish backstop is needed

The two candidates for the Conservative Party leadership, Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt, have taken part in hustings organised by the party in Northern Ireland.

Hunt, the Foreign Secretary, told party members, “We are never going to have a deal to leave the EU with the [Northern Irish] backstop. So it has to change or it has to go.” 

He said, “The fundamental issue with the backstop is not the principle that we shouldn’t have border infrastructure on the island of Ireland – that’s accepted by all sides,” adding, “The principle is the backstop which traps us into following EU customs tariffs until the EU gives us permission to leave the customs union… we have to find a different solution.”

Meanwhile, Johnson, the former Foreign Secretary, described the current Withdrawal Agreement as a “dead letter.” 

He said the backstop puts a “terrible moral blackmail” on the UK Government and added, “The way to protect the Union is to come out the EU whole and entire. Solve the border issues where they belong in the FTA [Free Trade Agreement] we are going to do.” 

Both Johnson and Hunt ruled out “permanent” membership of the EU’s Customs Union. Hunt also ruled out the possibility of holding a referendum in Northern Ireland on the backstop.

Following the hustings, Johnson met the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), Arlene Foster, at Stormont. This comes as the DUP’s Brexit spokesman, Sammy Wilson, said the party was “very pleased” about the Brexit position of the two leadership candidates, saying, “They have said that the current [Withdrawal Agreement] is not going to work. They have both said that they are committed to the union. And thirdly, they’re both saying that we will leave on 31 October.” Foster added they had a “useful discussion about restoring devolution [and] delivering on the EU referendum result.”

The UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, told the House of Commons yesterday, “The Government’s analysis suggests that in a disruptive No Deal exit there will be a hit to the exchequer of about £90bn.”

He also said, “We’ve built up around £26-27bn of fiscal headroom… to protect the UK economy from the immediate effects of a possible No Deal exit. But I have no doubt whatsoever that in a No Deal exit we will need all of that money and more to respond to the immediate impacts of the disruption…and that will mean there is no money available for longer-term either tax cuts or spending increases.” 

Hammond also suggested he might vote against the Government in order to oppose a No Deal Brexit, saying, “It would be wrong for a British Government to seek to pursue No Deal as a policy, and I believe that it will be for the House of Commons – of which I will continue proudly to be a member – to ensure that that doesn’t happen.”

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Martin Banks

Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a highly qualified journalist with many years experience of working within the EU institutions. He is an occasional, and highly valued, contributor to EU today, writing on a wide variety of issues.

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