Brexit: Hunt, Johnson declare Irish backstop 'dead'

LONDON

The two leading contestants to lead the U.K.'s Conservatives jointly declared that a previous proposal to remedy the uncertainty about the EU's post-Brexit border with the U.K. in Northern Ireland -- commonly known as the backstop -- was dead.

Speaking at a televised debate on Monday, Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt said the backstop would not be included in any future Brexit deal with the EU and that it would be no good to have a time limit on the border solution. 

"The answer is no. The problem is really fundamental. It needs to come out," Johnson said when asked whether or not he would seek a time limit on the backstop. 

Johnson also said his policy would contain "no time limits or unilateral escape hatches or these kind of elaborate devices, glosses, codicils and so on which you could apply to the backstop."

According to the former foreign secretary, the backstop was devised by the U.K. government and the EU to ensure the U.K.’s continued membership of the single market and the customs union after it left the bloc, but that under his premiership, it would be removed. 

Hunt agreed with Johnson, saying the backstop "is dead" and that a new solution had to be devised. The current foreign secretary ruled out adding changes to the backstop and said that if a new deal were to be agreed upon, Ireland must give its full commitment that there would be no hard border.

"If we are going to get a deal we must have an absolute cast-iron commitment to the Republic of Ireland that we will not have border infrastructure. So what they liked in the backstop was the fact it guaranteed that. If we are going to solve that we need to find another way of guaranteeing that same thing," said Hunt. 

The EU have repeatedly stated that they will neither renegotiate the deal agreed with outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May nor reopen the agreement on the Irish backstop. Hunt and Johnson have not presented an alternative deal but have repeatedly stated that they would prefer a no-deal Brexit over one that includes the backstop. 

The Irish backstop is one of the major obstacles preventing the U.K. from passing a deal agreed with the EU through parliament. The current border solution is highly unpopular with many MPs and repeated attempts by May to pass her deal through parliament were met with failure. 

The arrangement has come under heavy criticism from many MPs, especially those within the Democratic Unionist Party, and those supporting a hard Brexit, as they argue that the U.K. and Northern Ireland will have to abide by different regulations that could threaten the integrity of the Union and that the U.K. would not be able to end the arrangement unless it received consent from the EU. 

Under the arrangement, Northern Ireland, unlike the U.K., will remain in the single market to ensure frictionless trade. However, this would mean separate regulations would be enforced between Northern Ireland and the U.K. and that checks on goods entering Northern Ireland from the U.K. would be set in place.

The final leadership contest is set to take place next week when Johnson and Hunt will face each other to become prime minister. The Conservative party membership, numbering around 100,000 will decide on which candidate will become the U.K.’s next premier.

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