Boris Johnson: Irish Border problem a ‘gnat’ and backstop a ‘monstrosity’

Former Tory minister claims protocol used to coerce UK into ‘vassal state of Brussels’

Boris Johnson: “This version of the Irish backstop is little short of an attempt to annex Northern Ireland.” File photograph: EPA

Former British foreign secretary Boris Johnson has claimed that the Irish backstop in Brexit negotiations "is a monstrosity" that wipes out the UK's sovereignty.

In his weekly column in the Telegraph newspaper the Tory backbencher said the backstop "is being used to coerce the UK into becoming a vassal state of Brussels".

Describing the current EU-UK negotiations as a “spectacular political car crash” started by the backstop, he warned that if the UK did not challenge the December agreement and the March protocol for a backstop, “we are heading full throttle for the ditch with a total write-off of Brexit”.

He also described the border problem as a “gnat”.


“We are straining at the gnat of the Irish border problem – in fact we haven’t even tried to chew the gnat – and we are swallowing the camel of EU membership in all but name,” he said.


In December last year “the UK government agreed that if the EU was not satisfied – at any point in the future – about the arrangements for the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, then as a matter of law Northern Ireland would have to be part of the EU customs union and large parts of its single market – accepting rules promulgated in Brussels in just the way that Ireland does.”

In March the EU Commission “published a protocol spelling it out: that until Brussels agreed otherwise, Northern Ireland would have to remain effectively part of the EU. If Chequers is utterly unacceptable in principle, the practical consequences are even worse.”

He added: “This version of the Irish backstop is little short of an attempt to annex Northern Ireland. It would imply customs and regulatory controls between Britain and Northern Ireland, and therefore a border down the Irish sea.”


Mr Johnson, who resigned as foreign secretary days after the Chequers agreement was reached by the British cabinet, said it was a protocol that “would amount to a change in Northern Ireland’s constitutional status without its people’s consent – a total breach of the peace settlement. For Ulster Unionists of any description, for the Tory party, for anyone who cares about the union between Britain and Northern Ireland, it is a monstrosity.”

He added: “The whole thing is a constitutional abomination, and if Chequers were adopted it would mean that for the first time since 1066 our leaders were deliberately acquiescing in foreign rule.”

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times