The Foreign Secretary said the UK would handle the border with the Republic of Ireland using technology, explaining how as London Mayor he electronically levied the congestion charge on vehicles crossing the boundary between Camden and Westminster.
Labour politicians slammed the comment as “stupidity” and suggested the Cabinet minister was living on a different planet.
Theresa May and her Cabinet are currently trying to work out how to maintain pulling the UK out of the EU’s customs union, whilst also ensuring there is no customs border between Northern Ireland and the Republic – something seen as critical to peace in the region.
With International Trade Secretary Liam Fox set to insist in a speech that the UK will not be in any customs union after Brexit – despite pressure from Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour and Tory rebels – Mr Johnson argued the position would not mean a hard border in Ireland.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he said: “We think that we can have very efficient facilitation systems to make sure there is no need for a hard border excessive checks at the frontier for Northern Ireland and the Republic.
“You know, just for people listening, there’s no border between…Camden and Westminster but when I was Mayor of London we anaesthetically and visibly took hundreds of millions of pounds from the accounts of people travelling between those two boroughs without any need for border checks.”
When the interviewer said the comparison is not credible, Mr Johnson went on: “It’s a very relevant comparison, because there’s all sorts of scope for pre-booking, electronic checks, all sorts of things that you can do to obviate the need for a hard border, to allow us to come out of the customs union, take back control of our trade border and do trade deals.”
The comments were immediately seized upon by Labour, with David Lammy MP taking to Twitter to say: “God help us all this isn’t just stupidity and ignorance, but wilful recklessness.”
Ex-cabinet minister Andrew Adonis sardonically tweeted: “What a relief! Boris Johnson says ‘very efficient facilitation systems’ will deal with Brexit border in Ireland. Says it’s like the border between Camden & Westminster. What planet?”
Cabinet minister Dr Fox will say allowing the UK to stay in a customs union with the EU after Brexit would be “a complete sell-out” of Britain’s interests.
The International Trade Secretary will use a speech to claim the move, which could be forced by a coalition of Labour and Tory rebels, would leave Britain in a worse position than now.
With the Cabinet set to meet on Tuesday to put final touches on the UK’s agreed negotiating position with the EU, Dr Fox will say any form of customs union would leave the UK as “rule takers”.
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