Boris Johnson has been caught on camera extolling the virtues of key elements of EU membership to a group of Conservatives in Northern Ireland.
The prime minister told Tory members they had a “great” Brexit deal – as it retains access to the single market and freedom of movement – which the rest of the UK will lose under the terms of Mr Johnson’s blueprint.
As the footage emerged, critics demanded to know why the prime minister was dragging Britain out of the EU if he believed the terms of its membership were so beneficial.
Mr Johnson made the comments as he hit the campaign trail in Northern Ireland, where he also restated dubious claims that there would be no checks on goods travelling between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.
His remarks directly contradict both Northern Ireland secretary Julian Smith and Brexit secretary Steve Barclay, who said last month that Northern Ireland businesses would need fill out export declaration forms when sending goods to Britain under the terms of the new Brexit deal.
The Northern Ireland border was one of the key stumbling blocks to securing a Brexit deal for both Theresa May and Mr Johnson.
In a clip posted by Manufacturing Northern Ireland, the prime minister said: “There will not be checks – I speak as the prime minister of the UK 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 UK and we will not institute, implement or enact such checks.”
Mr Johnson added: “Northern Ireland has got a great deal. You keep free movement. You keep access to the single market but you also have, as it says in the deal, unfettered access to GB.
“We can also come out and do free trade deals. The only reason they gave us that deal, by the way, was because at the back of their minds, they were still worried we would come out without a deal.”
Tom Brake, the Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesman, 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.”
Labour’s David Lammy said: “Boris Johnson describes keeping free movement and access to the single market as a ‘great deal’ for Northern Ireland.
“His terrible withdrawal deal denies both to the rest of the UK.”
Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary, also criticised the prime minister for the comments, which he said showed a lack of understanding over his Brexit deal.
He said: “This is a prime minister who either doesn’t know the details of a deal that he has negotiated or isn’t being straight about it, or probably both.
“We’ve seen this so many times from Boris Johnson, this sort of casualness with the details – pretending there won’t be checks when it’s written into the treaty, pretending that as prime minister he could somehow waive the checks, when it’s a legal obligation.
“This is no way to try to run the country. He’s making it up as he goes along.”
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