Brexit: ‘call Ireland’s bluff’ on Border, Rees-Mogg tells May

Hardline Brexiteer says EU’s stance on Border is political rather than legal

Jacob Rees-Mogg: Britain should not do anything that risks security or damages the Irish economy. Photograph: PA Wire

Jacob Rees-Mogg: Britain should not do anything that risks security or damages the Irish economy. Photograph: PA Wire


The European Union could ignore its own rules if it wants to avoid a hard border in Ireland after Brexit and simply agree not to create one in any circumstances, the leading backbench Conservative Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg has said.

Mr Rees-Mogg, who chairs the European Research Group of pro-Brexit Tory MPs, said Theresa May should call Ireland’s bluff rather than allow the Border issue to hold Brexit to ransom.

“Will the Irish put up a border? Will a government that has always believed there should be a single government across the whole island of Ireland suddenly put up a wall? Is it going to be a Trump-like wall built by Mr Varadkar?

The British government has repeatedly said it will not impose a border, so it is entirely up to Mr Varadkar, ” he told The Irish Times.

“I think we can easily negotiate a deal on trade across the Border, but I don’t think this issue should hold us to ransom on doing everything else, which is what it’s currently being used for.

"I think we should simply make it clear that we will not put up a border and that is our position. And what would the Irish do if the EU insisted? I think that is a really interesting question. I think we should call that particular bluff.”

Breaking rules

Britain and the EU have agreed that there should be no return to a hard Border, and Ms May, the prime minister, has acknowledged that a unilateral British commitment not to create new barriers was not enough to resolve the issue.

Mr Rees-Mogg said he disagreed with the prime minister and dismissed the EU’s argument that its rules demanded that it should police its external borders and protect the integrity of the single market and the customs union.

“It wasn’t possible for Italy to join the euro. But lo and behold the rules were waived. It was not possible for Greece to join the euro, but lo and behold Goldman Sachs fiddled the figures and Greece joined. The four freedoms are indivisible, except when it comes to the association agreement with Ukraine, when lo and behold the freedom of movement of people – oh dear, we are not going to have that,” he said. 

“This is one of those things we must not fall for. The EU says this is EU law. It is holy writ. Moses has brought it down from the Alps, when he was not busy in the Sinai, and therefore it must be obeyed. Whenever it is convenient to the European Union, European law is adjusted. It is political rather than legal.’’

Trading partners

Mr Rees-Mogg said that, considering its long history with Ireland, Britain should not do anything that risks security or damages the Irish economy. He noted Britain’s importance as a trading partner for Ireland, particularly in agriculture, and warned of the consequences if the EU made Britain subject to the common external tariff.

“There would be up to 70 per cent tariffs on Irish beef ... I cannot believe there is any wish that the Irish Government has any wish for any of this to happen. Therefore I think we have to be very clear and say: we are not going to have a border, we’re going to carry on trading freely with you, what are you going to do?’’