Belfast Telegraph

'There will never be a hard border' - PM hopefuls have their say on Irish border question

The candidates ready to face viewers’ questions (Jeff Overs/BBC/PA)
The candidates ready to face viewers’ questions (Jeff Overs/BBC/PA)
Gareth Cross

By Gareth Cross

The leading candidate in the race to become the next Prime Minister of the United Kingdom has said that the government will never agree to a return to border infrastructure in Ireland.

Favourite Boris Johnson was speaking during a Tory leadership candidate debate on the BBC on Tuesday evening.

The debate took place after Dominic Raab was eliminated as a candidate earlier in the evening.

Mr Johnson said that the Irish border issue could be dealt with during trade negotiations after the withdrawal agreement was passed by MPs.

Home Secretary Sajid Javid claimed that Border Force had said technology currently existed to solve the issue.

During the debate candidates were asked questions on Brexit by people from around the UK.

Mark from Belfast told candidates that a free and open border helped secure peace and support trade in Northern Ireland.

He asked them how they would deal with the Irish border issue.

Mr Johnson said that he remembered "what it was like during the Troubles" and that "nobody wants to see a return of any kind of infrastructure".

He said that the UK government would never facilitate a hard border.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

The former Foreign Secretary said that questions could be solved regarding how to keep trade flowing during the trade negotiations after the withdrawal agreement is approved.

Mr Johnson said that the EU would be open to renegotiating due to pressure from the Brexit Party in Brussels and their desire to facilitate an orderly Brexit.

International Development Secretary Rory Stewart said that he had visited Enniskillen and Londonderry in recent weeks and said that Mr Johnson's plans wouldn't deal with trade tariffs for farmers in border regions.

Mr Johnson said that there would "be no tariffs or quotas" and that he wanted a "standstill in current arrangements" until a trade agreement was negotiated.

Mr Stewart said that the withdrawal agreement was legally binding and would not be renegotiated before October 31st, he accused the other candidates of not explaining how they would enact their Irish border plans.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove said that the Irish border question was not just about economics and cited his past experience working in Northern Ireland.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

Mr Gove said that there was a need to get the Assembly back up and running and that there was a need to give the SDLP and Irish nationalists a voice in the Brexit process.

He mentioned "delicate relationships" on the Irish border and suggested giving greater support to border communities and a need to "supercharge" work on alternative border arrangements.

Asked about his previous criticism of the Good Friday Agreement Mr Gove said that he had good relationships with Irish politicians North and South and on both sides of the religious divide.

He said that a "comprehensive solution" was needed to the border issue.

Home Secretary Sajid Javid said he was "100% committed" to the Good Friday Agreement.

Mr Javid said that Border Force had looked at the issue and that it was "perfectly possible to have an open border with different custom arrangements and different technology" but said it would take time and money.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

He said "some sort of compromise" will need to be reached on the backstop.

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said that EU leaders wanted the UK to come forward with a solution that would "work for everyone".

He said that the backstop would never get through Parliament in its current form and that there was a need to "show a way we can keep a soft border".

Mr Hunt said it needed to be done "with technology in a way that doesn't trap us in a customs union".

Following the answers Mark from Belfast said that there was "a lot of fear and confusion" in Northern Ireland and that he was "hoping for more" from the candidates."

The backstop aims to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland after Brexit, but opponents have claimed it could keep the UK aligned with the EU indefinitely and create a trade border in the Irish Sea.

The backstop issue effectively ended Theresa May's hopes of getting her Brexit deal through Parliament and its failure hastened her departure as Prime Minister.

Ballots of Conservative MPs will continue over the next few days to whittle the race down to the final two candidates.

The final stage of the leadership campaign will begin and Conservative members will then vote on the next leader of the party and Prime Minister, with the result expected on July 22.

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