Boris Johnson has claimed trade between Northern Ireland and Great Britain won’t be subject to any customs declarations, contrary to his own government ministers’ statements.
A video has been obtained by Sky News of Mr Johnson speaking to Irwin Armstrong, former Northern Ireland Conservative Party honorary chairman, at a Manufacturing Northern Ireland event, in which Mr Armstrong presses the PM on whether there will be customs forms for trade between Northern Ireland and Britain.
In the video, Mr Johnson said: “If somebody asks you to do that tell them to ring up the prime minister and I’ll direct them to put that form in the bin.”
He says: “There will be no forms, no checks, no barriers of any kind. You will have unfettered access.”
He gives no fewer than six assurances that will be the case.
However, those statements contradict the Withdrawal Agreement which Mr Johnson agreed with the EU and put to parliament before he called a general election, which removed the controversial backstop in favour of checks away from the land border.
The new deal sees Northern Ireland (NI) comply with EU customs regulations while legally being part of the UK customs area.
The impact of that was set before parliament in October, in a document which found there will be extra costs and processes for businesses trading with Great Britain (GB), but none for deals with Ireland, which for practical purposes will be treated as intra-EU deals.
Sky News contacted the Department for Exiting the European Union this afternoon to seek clarification and asked whether the prime minister was wrong in what he said.
The department said: “The policy is outlined in the WA and Explainer for the new Ireland/Northern Ireland protocol.”
In other words, yes.
An EU official told Sky News: “We would refer you to our Q&A where we say that ‘NI will continue to apply the Union’s Customs Code. The UCC includes pre-departure declarations and export formalities’.”
This point was made clear by Steve Barclay, the Brexit Secretary, in front of a House of Lords committee in October. This was later contradicted by various ministers and confusion abounded.
Mr Barclay has also previously told MPs “some information” and “minimal targeted interventions” would be required on goods travelling between Northern Ireland and Britain, because Northern Ireland will be aligned with Dublin and Brussels’ trading rules for agricultural and manufactured items.
Both Boris Johnson and Theresa May had promised Northern Ireland that there would be no increased barriers to trade with the rest of the United Kingdom.
Many observers watching the video concluded that the PM was either ignorant of the provisions of his own proposals or was misleading his audience.
European leaders may be extremely displeased that the PM appears to be disregarding key provisions of an agreement to which the British government agreed only weeks ago.
Lib Dem Brexit spokesman Tom Brake said: “The single market and freedom of movement are a great deal – even Boris Johnson recognises this.
“So why isn’t he keeping them for the whole of the UK as part of the many benefits of EU membership?
“It is clear that the best deal for the UK is the one we have now – in the EU.”
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Mr Johnson’s remark comes after he told workers at the Tayto factory: “There will not be tariffs or checks on goods coming from GB to Northern Ireland that are not going on to Ireland.
“There will not be checks – and I speak as the prime minister of the United Kingdom and a passionate Unionist.
“There will not be checks on goods going from Northern Ireland to Great Britain because we are the government of the United Kingdom and we will not institute or implement or enact such checks.
“And the idea that Tayto crisps from Tandragee are going to be vetted by some process, it is just nonsense.”
Questioned about his comments, Mr Johnson – who visited Northern Ireland on Thursday – said: “I’m not going to hide it from you that Northern Ireland has a good deal but so does the the whole of the UK.”
Mr Armstrong told PA: “I want to believe him, but is he just being bombastic and being Boris?
“I don’t know Boris Johnson well enough, whether it’s just what you say on a campaign trail or whether he is absolutely serious.”
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