Boris Johnson slammed for raising prospect of return to hard border in Ireland

Posted On: 
27th February 2018

Boris Johnson has sparked a fresh row after he appeared to concede that Brexit may lead to the return of a hard border in Ireland.

Boris Johnson has conceded that Brexit could lead to a hard border in Ireland.
PA Imsges

The Foreign Secretary made the startling admission in a letter to Theresa May which was leaked to Sky News.

In it, Mr Johnson says "it is wrong to see the task as maintaining 'no border'" on the island of Ireland after Britain quits the EU.

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He adds: "Even if a hard border is reintroduced, we would expect to see 95% + of goods pass the border [without] checks."

But the leading Brexiteer's admission that a hard border is a possibility is at odds with comments he made in the House of Commons last November.

Mr Johnson said: "There can be no return to a hard border. There can be no hard border. That would be unthinkable, and it would be economic and political madness."

The Foreign Secretary's letter to the Prime Minister was designed to set out his solutions to the challenge of avoiding a return to a hard border in Ireland once the UK is outside the EU.

A spokesman for Mr Johnson said: "The letter points out there is a border now and the task the committee face is stopping this becoming significantly harder.

"It shows how we could manage a border without infrastructure or related checks and controls while protecting UK, NI, Irish, and EU interests.

"As the PM has previously stated, we will not accept any physical infrastructure at the border and will instead seek alternatives that allow us to leave the customs union and take back control of our money, borders, laws and trading policy."

A friend of Mr Johnson said it was "disappointing" that the letter - - which was circulated to all 11 members of the Cabinet sub-committee on Brexit - had been leaked.


Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Smith said Theresa May should consider sacking the Foreign Secretary.

"Boris Johnson's comments to the Prime Minister about Northern Ireland are reckless and irresponsible," he said. "Solemn commitments were made at the end of the last year that there would be no hard border on the island of Ireland. No ifs, no buts. 

"For Boris to have been caught out trying to row back on these commitments demonstrates the dangerous attitude he takes to maintaining peace in Northern Ireland. The Prime Minister should condemn these remarks immediately and seriously consider the position of her Foreign Secretary."

Labour MP Ian Murray, of the pro-EU group Open Britain, said: "Boris Johnson promised ahead of the referendum that there would be no change to the invisible border in Ireland. Yet this leaked memo suggests he would rather undermine the Good Friday Agreement and the peace process than take the only path towards fulfilling his promise: keeping the whole of the UK in the single market and customs union.

"It can be little wonder that negotiations over Ireland are now severely strained: because Theresa May and her ministers have consistently failed to be honest about the implications of the hard Brexit they seek.

"As the threat to the integrity of the peace process from Brexit becomes clear, we all have the right to keep an open mind as to whether that it is too high a price to pay."

Mr Johnson's remarks come on the eve of the EU setting out how it plans to turn the UK's commitment to avoid a hard border in Ireland into a legally-binding text.

And they emerged just hours after he compared the Irish border to the one between Camden and Westminster.