Boris Johnson warns May against special NI Brexit arrangement

British foreign secretary describes second phase of talks as ‘exciting bit’

British foreign secretary Boris Johnson has warned British prime minister Theresa May against agreeing to any special arrangement for Northern Ireland in order to move Brexit talks to the next phase.

Answering questions from reporters after a speech at the foreign office, Mr Johnson said it was time for the negotiations to move on to the future relationship between Britain and the European Union.

"Whatever way we devise for getting on to the body of the talks, it's got to be consistent with the whole of the United Kingdom taking back control of our laws, of our borders and of our cash," he said.

“What we want to achieve is a new relationship, a deep and special partnership in which we can intensify our trade links and continue to work together on foreign policy and security.


“But to achieve that we need to get going with the second part of the talks. That’s the exciting bit.”

After the DUP vetoed Ms May’s deal on the Border on Monday, the British government said any “regulatory alignment” with the EU required to keep the Border open would apply to the whole of the United Kingdom.

But Change Britain, a successor organisation to the referendum campaign group Vote Leave, warned on Thursday that it would be "completely unacceptable" for Britain to have to follow EU rules after Brexit.

‘Stand firm’

"It would be single market membership in all but name. The government must stand firm in the negotiations and stick to the principles set out in the prime minister's Lancaster House speech," former Labour MP Gisela Stuart said.

With pro-Brexit Conservatives calling on the prime minister to walk away from the negotiations if the EU fails to agree next week to move on to the next phase, a House of Lords committee warned on Thursday that leaving the EU without a deal would be the worst possible outcome.

“‘No deal’ would mean the abrupt cessation of over 40 years of economic, political and legal partnership,” the House of Lords EU committee said.

“It is difficult, if not impossible, to envisage a worse outcome for the United Kingdom.”

The committee warned the Article 50 timetable has left too little time to agree new arrangements, so that a standstill transition period is essential.

It concluded, however, that the legal basis for such a transition remains unclear and calls on the government to move quickly to outline what it wants from a transition period.

Article 50

The report identified two options for keeping Britain in the EU beyond March 2019: an extension of the negotiations, which requires the unanimous agreement of EU leaders, or for the Article 50 withdrawal agreement to set a date for withdrawal later than March 2019.

“Either of these approaches could in principle ensure a legally watertight and time-limited ‘standstill period’. But the fact that both these approaches would extend the UK’s EU membership, and the legal obligations that flow from that membership, for a limited period, means that they are politically highly controversial in both the UK and the EU,” the committee said.

“We nevertheless note that a limited extension of EU membership would have the crucial advantage, for the UK and the EU, of buying more time for negotiations on the future relationship: only in the event of an extension do we see any credible prospect that the government’s preferred approach of concluding the withdrawal and future relations agreements simultaneously can be achieved.”

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times