Boris Johnson appears relaxed about the prospect of a hard border in Ireland after Brexit, according to a leaked letter.
In the document, seen by Sky News, the foreign secretary tells Theresa May “it is wrong to see the task as maintaining ‘no border’” on the island after March 2019 and that the government’s role will be to “stop this border becoming significantly harder”.
Johnson, who on Tuesday compared the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland to the border between Camden and Westminster, goes on to say that even if a hard border were in place, “we would expect to see 95% + of goods pass the border [without] checks” and plays down their importance.
The leak is believed to have come from the cabinet’s crunch Brexit deliberations last week.
Johnson previously told the Commons the return of a hard border was “unthinkable”.
Labour’s Ian Murray, speaking on behalf of the pro-Europe pressure group Open Britain, said the government’s approach was a threat to peace in Northern Ireland.
“Boris Johnson promised ahead of the referendum that there would be no change to the invisible border in Ireland,” he said.
“Yet this leaked memo suggests he would rather undermine the Good Friday Agreement and the peace process than take the only path towards fulfilling his promise: keeping the whole of the UK in the single market and customs union.
“It can be little wonder that negotiations over Ireland are now severely strained; because Theresa May and her ministers have consistently failed to be honest about the implications of the hard Brexit they seek.
“As the threat to the integrity of the peace process from Brexit becomes clear, we all have the right to keep an open mind as to whether that it is too high a price to pay.”
EU negotiators are set to publish a draft text later this week of what the UK’s final Brexit deal will look like.
The document is expected to conclude that Northern Ireland would remain inside the customs union in order to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.
A spokesman for Boris Johnson said: “As the Prime Minister has rightly said the Irish border needs to be as frictionless as possible and this paper was designed to outline how a highly facilitated border would work and help to make a successful Brexit.
“The letter points out there is a border now and the task the committee face is stopping this becoming significantly harder.
“It shows how we could manage a border without infrastructure or related checks and controls while protecting UK, NI, Irish, and EU interests.
“As the PM has previously stated, we will not accept any physical infrastructure at the border and will instead seek alternatives that allow us to leave the customs union and take back control of our money, borders, laws and trading policy.”