Belfast Telegraph

Eastwood: Tory leadership Brexit border plans range from 'ridiculous to insulting'

Colum Eastwood
Colum Eastwood
Jonathan Bell

By Jonathan Bell

Plans for how to deal with the Irish border in the Brexit talks outlined by Tory leadership hopefuls - who will become the next prime minister - range from the "ridiculous to the insulting," it has been claimed.

Conservatives have been announcing their bids to succeed Theresa May after she formally stood down as party leader on Friday. It is thought a new prime minister could be in place on the week beginning July 22.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood described their proposals for the backstop as fantasy.

How the Irish border operates has dogged the Brexit talks. Theresa May's negotiated backstop has caused consternation in Parliament with many saying it risks the integrity of the United Kingdom. Her persistence in trying to get her deal through with the backstop ultimately led to her downfall.

“Just when you think you’ve heard it all, another Tory Leadership hopeful blunders into the Brexit border debate with proposals that range from ridiculous to insulting," said Colum Eastwood.

Boris Johnson - who once told the DUP party conference the UK must "junk the backstop" - before he voted for Theresa May's withdrawal agreement told the Sunday Times he would scrap the backstop and only discuss border arrangements in the future trade talks.

He has said the UK should leave the EU on October 31, with or without a deal, and would withhold the so-called £39billion divorce payment until a better deal could be struck.

The Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who has moved into contention as a front runner alongside Boris Johnson, has said he would look to renegotiate a new deal with Brussels, claiming he has had assurances from German Chancellor Angela Merkel. However, the EU has repeatedly said it will not return to talks and considers the negotiations on the UK's exit as completed.

"They understand that the backstop is not going to get through Parliament," said Hunt at his leadership bid launch.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove is battling to stay in the contest after his admission of cocaine use 20 years ago led to calls to withdraw.

Contenders in the Conservative leadership race (top row, left to right) former foreign secretary Boris Johnson, former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, International Development Secretary Rory Stewart, former Conservative chief whip Mark Harper, Home Secretary Sajid Javid, (bottom row, left to right) former work and pensions secretary Esther McVey, Health Secretary Matt Hancock, former House of Commons leader Andrea Leadsom, Environment Secretary Michael Gove, and Sam Gyimah (PA)
Contenders in the Conservative leadership race (top row, left to right) former foreign secretary Boris Johnson, former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, International Development Secretary Rory Stewart, former Conservative chief whip Mark Harper, Home Secretary Sajid Javid, (bottom row, left to right) former work and pensions secretary Esther McVey, Health Secretary Matt Hancock, former House of Commons leader Andrea Leadsom, Environment Secretary Michael Gove, and Sam Gyimah (PA)

He told the BBC Andrew Marr show he wanted to see a "full stop to the backstop" and that he favoured the so-called Stormont lock which would allow Northern Ireland politicians to have their say on how the backstop would operate should it ever come into being with any law changes it makes followed by the rest of the UK.

Sajid Javid said the UK had a "moral duty" to pay for border arrangements pledging to offer £500million for technological solutions.

He insisted his time as home secretary - which includes responsibilities for the UK's borders - had shown it was possible to have an invisible border between the Republic and Northern Ireland saying he had "done the homework on this".

“You don’t need a magic solution for this. The solution exists," he told Sky News.

“I will change the dynamic and I will do that by offering the money to pay for the border. It is justified that we do that because, economically, if that unlocks a deal we will have a mini economic boom in this country if we get a deal and that will pay for that,” he said.

Colum Eastwood described Javid's offer of money as "crass, amateur and really offensive".

"The notion that Britain can slip Ireland £500m for our trouble and think we’ll agree, presumably with a nod and a wink, to say no more is crass and amateur. It amounts to diplomatic bribery and solves absolutely nothing."

Dominic Raab at his launch to become the next Tory leader vowed to return to Brussels to make a "best final offer" to replace the controversial backstop.

Former work and pensions secretary Esther McVey told Sky News the technology existed to facilitate an "invisible border" which could be in place by October 31. A claim that has been disputed by - among others - Brussels officials.

Rory Stewart has said there is "not a hope" of renegotiating a new deal or getting rid of the backstop before October 31, the new date for the UK to leave the EU.

“Whoever the next British Prime Minister needs to get real very quickly," continued Eastwood.

"There is no deal on the table that doesn’t involve the backstop or remaining within the single market and customs union.

"The alternative is a crash out Brexit which would be a disaster for these islands. Playing to the Tory party gallery during a leadership challenge is all well and good but people on this island will not be taken for granted or bought off.”

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