Boris Johnson decries ‘ludicrous’ checks at Irish Sea border he agreed – but admits he knew there would be checks

Boris Johnson has denounced as “ludicrous” the checks which he said would not happen at the Irish Sea border which he said would not exist.

Tuesday, 20th April 2021, 6:30 am
Updated Tuesday, 20th April 2021, 9:12 am

In an interview for BBC Spotlight which will be broadcast tonight, the prime minister insisted that he was dismayed to see the consequences for Northern Ireland of the deal which he agreed with the EU.

When Mr Johnson agreed in 2019 to the Northern Ireland Protocol – which creates the Irish Sea border – he described it as an “excellent deal” necessary to “get Brexit done”.

In recent weeks Mr Johnson has made clear that he stands by the protocol and a fortnight ago his government gave the EU a ‘roadmap’ towards fully implementing the Irish Sea border.

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Boris Johnson admitted to Mark Devenport that he always knew there would be checks between GB and NI

However, in preview material released by the BBC last night ahead of a major Spotlight film looking at the centenary of Northern Ireland, Mr Johnson is said to have pledged to take whatever steps are necessary to end what he described as the “ludicrous barriers” to internal trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland created by the protocol.

In an interview with former BBC NI political editor Mark Devenport, the prime minister said that his government is trying to “sandpaper” the controversial protocol into shape.

He said that if the EU insists on being dogmatic over matters like the supply of British rose bushes, soil and sausages to Northern Ireland, then the government will take further steps.

Mr Johnson told Spotlight that the EU Withdrawal Agreement specifically mentioned Northern Ireland’s integral place in the UK’s internal market.

The prime minister said that the way in which the deal has been interpreted does not conform with this provision.

Mr Johnson once told the public that the deal would mean no checks on goods flowing into or out of Northern Ireland to the rest of the UK.

However, the prime minister admitted to Mr Devenport that checks on goods moving across the Irish Sea had been envisaged by his government.

Mr Johnson insisted that they always intended those checks to involve light touch measures.

The Tory leader also said that he does not envisage the UK considering a border poll for “a very, very long time to come”.

Taoiseach Micheal Martin told Spotlight that he also does not want to see a sudden Irish unity referendum.

He refused to put any timescale on the holding of a border poll but said that he expects a completely different political dispensation on the island in another hundred years’ time.

He said that accepting Sinn Féin’s repeated calls for an early border poll would be “very explosive and divisive”.

Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has suggested the 30th anniversary of the Belfast Agreement in 2028 might be a suitable year to hold a border poll but Mr Martin said it was not helpful to stipulate dates.

Instead the Toaiseach said he “much prefers to see the meat on the bone, and for me, the meat on the bone is real engagement, real discussions, real opening up.”

Mr Martin rejected unionist concerns that the protocol erodes Northern Ireland’s constitutional position within the UK by undermining the Union.

The Taoiseach said that it was overly dramatic for unionists to claim that the protocol is tearing the UK apart.

Alluding to Arlene Foster’s stance on the Irish Sea border as recently as the start of January, the Taoiseach said that the early signs were that unionists were going to work with the protocol in a pragmatic way.

However Mr Martin said he is now concerned that “heat” generated around the protocol by its critics has “drowned out” the voices of Northern Ireland’s businesses, farmers and educational institutions who can see potential advantages in the new trading arrangements.

The Fianna Fail leader urged “calm deliberation of these issues” and asked parties not to raise tensions unnecessarily.

l Spotlight: A Contested Centenary will be broadcast at 9pm tonight on BBC One NI

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