Boris Johnson has wrongly claimed his Brexit deal means “no checks” on goods between Northern Ireland and Great Britain in a “rambling” and “incoherent” speech.
The prime minister, who was elected Tory leader for his hardline Brexiteer credentials, also said free movement and single market access represent a “great deal” for the region.
The PM repeated the claims about the checks, contradicted by his own Brexit Secretary and the Home Office, saying his deal would mean “no checks” on goods transported to the region from the rest of the UK.
Johnson has attracted a tide of criticism for the comments, made while on the campaign trail Ulster on Thursday night.
It comes as the Conservatives face tough competition for Leave votes from Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party and Labour.
In a clip widely shared on social media, the PM could be heard to say: “So, actually Northern Ireland has got a great deal. It’s got a great deal.
“You keep free movement, you keep access to the single market but you also have, as it says in the deal, unfettered access to GB and we can also come out and do free trade.”
He also claimed it was “nonsense” there would be checks.
Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay admitted when the deal was published that there will be “minimal targeted interventions” on goods, which means there will be new administration and checks on goods crossing the Irish Sea.
“And the great thing that is being misunderstood about all this is, is there will not be checks, there will not be checks, I speak as the prime minister of the United Kingdom and a passionate unionist, there will not be checks on goods going from Northern Ireland to Great Britain.
“Because we’re the government of the United Kingdom, and we will not institute or implement or enact such checks.”
A longer version of the clip said Northern Ireland businesses should throw customs declaration forms “in the bin”.
Johnson also seemed to suggest his strategy was to threaten Brussels with no-deal by appearing “irrational”.
He said: “The only reason they gave us that deal by the way, was at the back of their mind, they were still worried that we would come out without a deal, and even though they could see what the Benn Act was doing to us and how difficult it was they weren’t quite sure if the UK government was going to be sufficiently irrational as they saw it to come out without a deal.”
A Number 10 source said Johnson’s reference to free movement was about the common travel area on the island of Ireland, which links Northern Ireland to the single market to avoid a hard border.
They also insisted that the government would not enforce checks on good between Northern Ireland Great Britain.
“We are confident that we can address the EU’s concerns in such a way that there doesn’t need to be any change in NI-GB trade,” the source said.
The clip attracted widespread criticism on social media.
Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer tweeted: “Boris Johnson either doesn’t understand the deal he has negotiated or he isn’t telling the truth. Probably both.”
Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner added: “This is complete incoherent rambling nonsense from the PM.”
The Best for Britain campaign, which is pushing for a second referendum and to remain in the EU, has also waded in.
Its chief executive Naomi Smith said: “This slip reveals what we have known all along about Boris Johnson. He knows that staying in the EU would be best for Britain, but he would much rather sell the country down the river for his own political gain.
“He calls free movement and single market access a ‘great deal’ for Northern Ireland, yet his withdrawal agreement means the rest of the UK misses out on both of these benefits.
“This is a prime minister who does not care about the damage he is inflicting on this country.”