Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt have declared the Northern Ireland backstop “dead” and promised to throw it out of any deal they negotiate with the EU, in comments that significantly harden their Brexit positions.
The Tory leadership rivals both ruled out trying to tweak the backstop, which critics said could trap the UK indefinitely in a customs union with the EU.
They said it would not feature in any deal with the EU, saying it was no good to have a time limit on it or a way of the UK exiting it unilaterally – even though Eurosceptics had previously indicated they could vote for such compromises.
Pressed in a Sun and Talk Radio debate on whether he would seek a time limit to the backstop, Johnson 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”.
“I think the problem is very fundamental. It has been devised by this country as an instrument of our own incarceration in the single market and customs union. It needs to come out,” he added.
Hunt agreed, saying “the backstop, as it is, is dead”, adding that there had to be a new way. “I don’t think tweaking it with a time limit will do the trick,” he said. “If we are going to get a deal we must have an absolute cast-iron commitment to the Republic of Ireland that we will not have border infrastructure. So what they liked in the backstop was the fact it guaranteed that. If we are going to solve that we need to find another way of guaranteeing that same thing.
The EU has repeatedly ruled out reopening Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement to revisit the backstop, which Brussels regards as a way of protecting the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland from a return to a hard border between them.
However, both leadership candidates appeared categorical on Monday that they would throw it out of the deal entirely – or proceed to a no-deal Brexit. Hunt and Johnson endorsed the concept of “alternative arrangements” such as customs checks away from the border or trusted trader schemes. [...]
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