Boris Johnson today upped the pressure on Prime Minister Theresa May by calling on her to persuade the European Union to ditch the so-called Irish backstop.
May’s widely unpopular Brexit deal – the result of two years of negotiations with the EU – was resoundingly rejected by parliament before Christmas, largely over concerns created by the backstop.
The arrangement ties the UK into a temporary customs union with the EU after a two-year transition period to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
But the UK cannot exit the backstop of its own accord, stoking fears that the UK would be indefinitely tied to EU rules without influencing them.
Writing in the Telegraph today, Johnson said that May could insert a “Freedom Clause” into her withdrawal agreement to enable the UK to leave the backstop without the EU’s agreement.
“If the PM secures that change – a proper UK-sized perforation in the fabric of the backstop itself – I have no doubt that she will have the whole country full-throatedly behind her,” the former foreign secretary said.
His comments come a day before MPs debate May’s plan B tomorrow, two months before the UK’s scheduled departure from the EU with or without a deal.
“If we mean it, if we really try, I have no doubt that the EU will give us the Freedom Clause we need,” Johnson claimed.
“So now is the time to stiffen the sinews and summon up the blood and get on that trusty BAE 146 and go back to Brussels and get it.”
However, Ireland’s deputy prime minister, Simon Coveney, stated that no changes are possible to the withdrawal agreement – a position held by Brussels since negotiations concluded.
“Even in a no-deal Brexit situation every party and every MP in the UK will have a responsibility to ensure there is no return to a hard border and Northern Ireland is protected,” Coveney said.
“That won't be easy and those who misrepresent the backstop don't have an alternative to it.”