Boris Johnson calls on British government to abandon backstop for Border

Former foreign secretary says Ireland exploited Theresa May’s ‘infirmity of purpose’

 Boris Johnson: “Go back to our EU friends and tell them that the December 8 Irish ‘backstop’ arrangement . . .  is no longer operative”

Boris Johnson: “Go back to our EU friends and tell them that the December 8 Irish ‘backstop’ arrangement . . . is no longer operative”


Boris Johnson has called on the British government to abandon the commitment it made last December to a backstop for the Border and seek to have the issue removed from the Brexit withdrawal agreement.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph on Friday, the former foreign secretary said Ireland and the European Union exploited UK prime minister Theresa May’s “infirmity of purpose” to use the Border issue to push for a soft Brexit.

“Go back to our EU friends and tell them that the December 8th Irish ‘backstop’ arrangement – which effectively gives Brussels the perpetual right to the economic annexation of Northern Ireland if it deems there is ever any regulatory divergence between NI and the rest of the EU – is no longer operative and no longer acceptable to this country. That means we will need a different Withdrawal Agreement, stating that the Irish border question will be settled as part of the deal on the future economic arrangements, and that both sides are committed to avoiding a hard border,” Mr Johnson writes.

“I recognise that this would be a difficult step, given the diplomatic energy squandered on the backstop, but it cannot be acceptable that the constitution of the UK should be held to ransom in this way, or the Belfast Agreement subverted in the manner proposed by the EU.”

Transition period

Britain and the EU agreed in a joint report last December that there should be a backstop that would keep Northern Ireland aligned with the single market and customs union if no other solution was found to keep the Border open. Britain agreed last March that a legally operative backstop should be part of the withdrawal agreement governing its departure from the EU, without which the UK will leave next March without a 21-month transition period.

Mr Johnson wants the prime minister to abandon her Chequers proposal, which would keep Britain aligned to EU regulations on goods and agricultural products. He calls instead for Britain to seek what he calls a “Super Canada” free trade agreement, which would be more comprehensive than the EU’s deal with Canada.

He writes that Ms May’s government, of which he was a senior member for two years until last June, was in the grip of uncertainty as it approached the Brexit negotiations.

Political will

“This basic nervousness was soon detected by our partners, both in Brussels and most importantly in Dublin. They realised that some of the most important voices in the UK government – notably the Treasury – retained their pre-referendum antipathy to a real Brexit. In particular, they saw that the UK did not have the political will to devise and push hard for the technical solutions to deliver an unobtrusive soft customs border in Northern Ireland. Instead the EU negotiators realised that they had a path to eventual victory in the negotiations,” he writes.

“They offered a different solution: that regulations in Northern Ireland should remain the same as in Ireland, so that there was no need for checks of any kind. This of course evoked the spectre of a border in the Irish Sea, and a threat therefore to the Union between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. They knew that this would be unacceptable to any British government, and that London would then instead have to push for the whole UK to remain in the customs union and large parts of the EU’s regulatory apparatus.”

European Council president Donald Tusk said last week that without significant progress on the backstop by the middle of October, he would not call a special summit on Brexit in November.