Belfast Telegraph

Wrong to think there will be no Irish border after Brexit: Boris Johnson letter

If there has to be some checks then let there be checks: DUP

By Jonathan Bell

A leaked memo from Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson to the Prime Minister appears to suggest there will have to be checks along the Irish border after Brexit and the government should focus on making sure the border does not become "significantly harder".

In the letter - obtained by Sky News - Mr Johnson appears to say it would be "wrong to see the government's task as maintaining no border" and even discusses the consequences of a hard border.

Critics said the letter was at odds with Mr Johnson's comments on managing the border like the London congestion zone and amounted to how a hard border operates.

However the DUP said the letter suggested a possible "virtual border" and that checks currently take place as it is.

In the wake of the leak, Number 10 dismissed any prospect of a return to a "hard border" saying it had made clear its commitment "on numerous occasions".

A spokesman for the foreign secretary said the letter was  "designed to outline how a highly facilitated border would work and help to make a successful Brexit".

"The letter points out there is a border now, and the task the (cabinet Brexit) committee face is stopping this becoming significantly harder," he said.

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

He added: "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."

The UK government has committed to maintaining a frictionless border on the island of Ireland after Brexit. The leaked letter comes just hours ahead of the publication of a draft legal text from the EU on how the separation would work.

The letter from the Foreign Secretary, entitled "The Northern Ireland/Ireland border - the Facilitated Solution", is part of a "concept note" that "draws on Foreign Office expertise".

It also accompanies a note which appears to distance Mr Johnson's position from official British policy, saying "it is an FCO concept note based on discussion with other departments but is not agreed technical advice".

If there has to be some checks then let there be checks.

The letter says the aim of the Government should be to stop the border "becoming significantly harder".

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

DUP Brexit spokesman Sammy Wilson told Sky News there were currently checks on those passing through the border and Northern Ireland could not in any way be isolated from the UK after Brexit.

"If there has to be some checks then let there be checks," he said.

Mr Wilson said his party was committed to getting a "frictionless border," he added: "This term of hard border needs to be defined. Those that talk about a hard border talk about check points on every road coming in and out of Northern Ireland, surveillance and every vehicle stopped, searched, etc...

"The more I see what was in the letter, what he was saying was 'yes of course there will be ways of checking trade across the border, it doesn't mean that you have to stop vehicles or have to have physical barriers across roads,' there are means of doing that and some have described it as a virtual border rather than a physical border."

Former Conservative Cabinet minister Lord Heseltine said what the letter was referring was to how all hard borders operate.

"This is completely incompatible with what [Boris Johnson] said in the referendum campaign. It is complete nonsense of his statement today that it's like Islington and Camden.

"What he is saying to the Prime Minister in private is that their may well have to be checks of perhaps 5% - and that means a hard border.

"This is the most remarkable revelation of duplicity."

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