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Northern Ireland committee chair warns Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt pledge to axe backstop a 'very dangerous step'

Northern Ireland committee chair warns Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt pledge to axe backstop a 'very dangerous step'
3 min read

Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt have taken a "very dangerous step" by pledging to axe the Irish backstop from any Brexit deal, the Tory chair of the Northern Ireland committee has warned.

Simon Hoare said he hoped the two rivals for the Tory leadership were simply “caught up in the heat of an election campaign” and that for “whoever wins reality will dawn and such talk very quickly disappears”.

Speaking to Sky News, the MP said getting rid of the backstop - an insurance policy to ensure there remains an open border with Ireland after Brexit - “is not good for the island”, the UK economy or the union.

The mechanism proved a major sticking point behind Theresa May's three failed attempts at getting her Brexit deal through, however the EU has repeatedly said it will not agree to a deal that excludes it.

In a debate held by the Sun and TalkRadio between the candidates to replace Theresa May as Prime Minister, Mr Johnson revealed he would not be seeking to amend the current proposal.

Asked if he would push the EU for a time limit to the arrangement, he said: “The answer is no. The problem is really fundamental. It needs to come out.”

He said his policy would be “no to time limits or unilateral escape hatches or these kind of elaborate devices, glosses, codicils and so on which you could apply to the backstop”.

The ex-foreign secretary labelled it “an instrument of our own incarceration in the single market and customs union”, with Mr Hunt agreeing, saying “the backstop, as it is, is dead”.

But Mr Hoare, who leads the cross-party committee on Northern Ireland, called the comments “worrying and depressing”.

He said both candidates had “moved the goalposts” on the backstop, as even “die hard” Brexiteers agreed a time-limit would solve their issues with it, but Mr Johnson and Mr Hunt have “gone the Full Monty” by saying it should be completely ditched.

He added: “This is a very, very dangerous step that both men seem to have taken yesterday.”

Describing the border as not just the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic but the EU Single Market too, he continued: “Whatever is required to preserve its integrity, by definition is going to have to be delivered.

“And the consequences of an infrastructured hard border is beyond contemplation.”

It comes as both men in the race to replace Mrs May are set to face a growing opposition to a no deal Brexit from their own side, with Chancellor Philip Hammond warning he plans to do “everything I can” to block it.

Former Attorney General Dominic Grieve said pursuing no-deal will bring down the Government because its own MPs will vote against it in a confidence motion.

He said: “As I’ve said on many occasions in the house over the last 12 months, if a government persists in trying to carry out a no-deal Brexit, I think that administration is going to fall.”

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