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Thursday 21 June 2018

Border stalemate on Brexit continues as Johnson jokes

Simon Coveney and Boris Johnson
Simon Coveney and Boris Johnson

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has poked fun at the Brexit impasse by asking if an atomic microscope could be used to break the deadlock on future cross-Border trade.

On a visit to the Naughton Institute in Trinity College Dublin, Mr Johnson met scientists operating a scanning tunnelling microscope and said it looked like something from a Jules Verne novel.

"Do you think you could use this technology to have frictionless trade? That's what we need," he said.

After meeting Mr Johnson yesterday morning, Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney warned it was impossible to avoid some form of "Border infrastructure" if - as British Prime Minister Theresa May has said - Britain is to leave the customs union and the single market.

"We simply don't see how we can avoid Border infrastructure, whether it's on the Border or somewhere else on the island, if we have regulatory divergence in Northern Ireland versus the rest of the island," Mr Coveney told a joint news conference with Mr Johnson.

"When you have a different rule book applied to trade and business, well then, you are starting to go down the road of having to have checks and inspections."

Mr Johnson, however, argued the Border issue could only be resolved in the context of the wider negotiations on Britain's future relationship with the EU.

Questions

"The issues of the Northern Irish Border and how it works are intellectually intimately bound up with the questions of the customs union, the single market and Britain's relationship with those," he said.

"Those questions have been reserved by the European Commission for study in stage two of the negotiations.

"I think, logically, now is the time to proceed with stage two of the negotiations."

In a further sign of the tensions between Dublin and London, Mr Johnson poured cold water on a call by Mr Coveney for a transition period of up to five years after Britain leaves the EU, rather than Mrs May's proposed two years.

"I think it is possible to do that within a much shorter time scale," he said.

Meanwhile, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has demanded a commitment that there will be no return to a "hard Border" between Ireland and the North, in a fresh clash with Mrs May over Brexit.

Attending a European summit in Sweden, the Taoiseach made clear the Brexit negotiations could not move on to the second phase until the future status of the Border was clear.

Mrs May is anxious to secure the agreement of EU leaders to open discussions on Britain's future relations with the bloc - including a free trade deal - when they meet next month in Brussels.

However, Mr Varadkar, who met the prime minister in the margins of the gathering in Gothenburg, said that would require further "concessions" from the UK.

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