Northern Ireland: Government 'resolutely' committed to no hard border after Brexit despite Boris Johnson comments, Karen Bradley says

Northern Ireland Secretary rebuts Foreign Secretary's suggestion ministers should instead focus on 'stopping border becoming significantly harder'

Benjamin Kentish
Political Correspondent
Wednesday 28 February 2018 12:45 GMT
Karen Bradley: Government will not allow a hard border in Northern Ireland

Karen Bradley has slapped down Boris Johnson’s suggestion that the Government could consider a hard border in Northern Ireland after Brexit.

The Northern Ireland Secretary said the Government “resolutely” stood by an agreement with the EU late last year that stated no new physical infrastructure will be introduced on the border.

The “constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom is paramount”, Ms Bradley said, adding that the Government intends to maintain an open border by negotiating a trade deal between the EU and the whole of the UK.

It comes after a leaked document revealed Mr Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, had used a letter to Theresa May to raise the prospect of a hard border in Northern Ireland and suggest it was not ministers’ job to prevent one.

Speaking to MPs on the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Ms Bradley insisted this was not the Government’s position.

“The British Government stands resolutely behind the joint report [with the EU] from December,” she said. “There is no change in position with regards the joint report, and also no change in our position with regards support for the Belfast Agreement. We are resolutely behind that.

“That means there will be no hard border. We have said that, the Irish government has said that and the EU has said that.

“[There will be] no new physical infrastructure at the border. That is north-south but also east-west.

“To be absolutely clear, the constitutional and economic integrity of the United Kingdom is paramount and something the United Kingdom government will ensure is what we achieve.”

She added: “We are working towards an overall UK-EU agreement that means there is no hard border, no new physical infrastructure at the border, [and] frictionless movement of people and goods.”

In an explosive letter leaked to Sky News, Boris Johnson told Ms May: “It would be wrong to see the Government’s task as maintaining no border.”

Instead, he said, ministers’task should be to “stop the border becoming significantly harder”, adding that – even if that happened – “95 per cent plus of goods” could be expected to pass through without checks.

Ms Bradley also hinted that she will cut the salaries of members of the Northern Irish assembly, who have not sat for over a year after power-sharing at Stormont collapsed last January.

She said an announcement on the issue will be made next week, but confirmed that, even if assembly members’ pay is cut, staffing budgets will not be.

“I don’t think the staff should be punished or penalised for the inability of the parties to form an executive,” she said.

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