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article imageJohnson says Irish issue being used to 'frustrate Brexit'

By AFP     Feb 28, 2018 in Politics

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson on Wednesday hit back over a row regarding the Irish border after Brexit, saying the issue was being used to try to frustrate the UK's withdrawal from the European Union.

A leaked letter to Prime Minister Theresa May from Johnson, a leading eurosceptic, published late Tuesday suggested he has challenged the government's goal of avoiding any "hard border" between Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland.

"The particular problem around the Irish border is being used politically to drive the whole Brexit argument and effectively to try and frustrate Brexit," Johnson said Wednesday.

The government has pledged to leave the EU's single market and customs union after Brexit, but there are concerns this would lead to trade barriers on the Irish border.

The opposition Labour party suggested this week that Britain stay in the customs union to avoid frontier checks, the imposition of which some fear could threaten the fragile peace on the island.

"The issue of the Northern Irish border is being used quite a lot politically to try and keep the UK in the customs union -- effectively the single market -- so we cannot really leave the EU," Johnson said.

In his letter to May, obtained by Sky News, Johnson wrote that "it is wrong to see the task as maintaining 'no border'" in Ireland, and the government should instead "stop this border becoming significantly harder".

- 'Very good solutions' -

He said Wednesday it was a "very positive" letter.

"What the letter says is that, actually, there are very good solutions that you could put in place that would obviate, prevent any kind of hard border but would allow goods, people... to move freely without let or hindrance whilst allowing the UK to come out of the customs union," he said.

The EU will on Wednesday publish a draft treaty putting into law a withdrawal deal struck with Britain in December.

EU negotiator Michel Barnier confirmed it would include a "backstop" which says that if no better solution is found, Northern Ireland would remain in "full alignment" with the EU's single market and customs union in order to uphold a 1998 peace agreement in the north.

London fears this could effectively draw up a border between Northern Ireland and the rest of Britain.

A Downing Street spokesman said Tuesday: "We've always been clear that we would not agree anything that would threaten the constitutional or economic integrity of the UK."

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