Boris Johnson has called for the Irish border backstop to be “junked” as he warned that Theresa May’s draft Brexit deal was in danger of turning Northern Ireland into an “economic semi-colony” of the EU.
The arch Brexiteer and ex-foreign secretary received a warm welcome at the DUP conference in Belfast as he demanded the scrapping of the proposal that could see Northern Ireland aligned with EU regulatory rules post-Brexit.
After a week that saw the DUP vote against the Government in the Commons to signal their anger at the agreement, Johnson stressed the need to maintain the Conservatives’ “crucial” confidence and supply deal going forward, warning of ruinous consequences for the UK if Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn came to power.
“And so to our allies in the DUP, I hope that you agree that it is absolutely vital that we keep this partnership going and that we are not so complacent as to abandon the government of this country to a man whose avowed policy is to break up this country,” he said.
“And we should work together to ensure that the whole UK – Northern Ireland included – can seize the opportunities of Brexit.”
Johnson said the UK was on the verge of “making a historic mistake”.
“If we are not careful, we are going to stay in the customs union, we are going to stay in the single market, we are going to be rules takers,” he said.
“Unless we junk this backstop, we will find that Brussels has got us exactly where they want us – a satellite state.
“We will continue to accept the terms under which they have a surplus in trade in goods with us of £95 billion. But with no power, no British influence on those terms. We won’t be able to do free trade deals of any value or significance.”
He added that the EU had achieved a “very clever trick” by making Northern Ireland an “indispensable bargaining chip” in future negotiations, noting the reference to the potential need to label goods from Northern Ireland UK (NI) under the backstop proposal.
“Indeed if you read the Withdrawal Agreement you can see that we are witnessing the birth of a new country called Ukni,” he said.
“Ukni is no longer exclusively ruled by London or Stormont. Ukni is in large part to be ruled by Brussels.
“And Ukni will have to accept large swathes of EU regulations now and in the future.
“On lawnmower noise, on the labelling of sardines, on the use of coins and tokens that may be deemed to resemble a Euro.
“And on the use of personal recreational watercraft. And nowhere has a more illustrious history than Northern Ireland when it comes to the creation of recreational watercraft.
“The Titanic springs to mind, and now is the time to point out the iceberg ahead.”
Johnson warned the UK would have to “leave Northern Ireland behind as an economic semi-colony of the EU” if the rest of the union wanted to strike free trade deals.