Boris Johnson had to know it was coming: A Parliamentary question from the Labour Party on the Conservative government’s plan for the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
He had been blabbing on and on about it all over the place – in a leaked letter to Theresa May, on the street to journalists, and on the radio as well, if I recall correctly.
But it turned out he didn’t want to discuss the matter in Parliament – even though that happens to be his job.
Instead, he sent David Lidington out to bat for him – the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who has nothing to do with the Foreign Office, it seems.
Then again, does Mr Johnson have that much contact these days?
Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry was unimpressed:
“An absolute disgrace and a huge discourtesy to this House” – my opening remarks after Boris Johnson's cowardly refusal to answer my Urgent Question on the NI border pic.twitter.com/0gCKU8te9X
— Emily Thornberry (@EmilyThornberry) February 28, 2018
Mr Lidington trotted out the Tory “guarantee of avoiding a hard border” – but, again, Ms Thornberry was having none of it.
“Perhaps the Foreign Secretary is afraid that these questions go to the very heart of his credibility and the credibility of previous statements that he has made in this House,” she said.
“On 21 November, from the Dispatch Box, I asked the Foreign Secretary whether he stood by the statement he made in February 2016—that a vote for Brexit would leave the border arrangements in Northern Ireland “absolutely unchanged”. He told the House in response—just three months ago—that he ‘repeated exactly the pledge…there can be no return to a hard border…That would be unthinkable, and it would be economic and political madness. I think everybody…understands the ramifications of allowing any such thing to happen.’
“But last night, despite that clear public statement from the Foreign Secretary, we discovered his private memo to the Prime Minister on the same subject. In it he wrote: ‘It is wrong to see the task as maintaining ‘no border’’. The Government’s task is, he said, to ‘stop the border becoming significantly harder’. But, he wrote: ‘Even if a hard border is reintroduced, we would expect to see 95 per cent plus of goods pass the border’ without checks.”
A Tory grandee of much higher standing than Mr Johnson has already called out this stance as nonsense. In fact, Lord Heseltine described it as “duplicity”:
Former Conservative deputy prime minister, Michael Heseltine, explains that Boris Johnson's proposal in leaked memo is describing exactly what a hard border is. Says his comments are "complete nonsense" and accuses the foreign secretary of duplicity. pic.twitter.com/1KCG1Tu644
— The Agitator (@UKDemockery) February 28, 2018
Ms Thornberry told the Commons: “Let us be clear what this memo reveals. Contrary to the Foreign Secretary’s previous statements, he accepts that there will have to be changes to the current border arrangements, and he accepts there will need to be border controls that do not exist at present; the only debate is their degree of hardness. But surely the Foreign Secretary has learned by now that you cannot just be a little bit pregnant: either there is a border or there is not.”
She concluded – as we should: “The Government are saying one thing in public while preparing for the reality in private, and it is about time the deception was ended.”
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