Boris Johnson has promised Northern Irish businesses they will not have to fill out customs declarations to send goods to the rest of the UK once Britain has left the EU as he appeared to contradict Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay.
The Prime Minister told business leaders in Ulster last night that if anyone asked them in future to fill out paperwork they should tell them to call Number 10 and he would tell them to ‘throw that form in the bin’.
His comments seem to go against what Mr Barclay told the House of Lords Exiting the EU committee in October when he said: ‘The exit summary declarations will be required in terms of NI to GB.’
Sir Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary, seized on Mr Johnson’s remarks and said the PM ‘either doesn’t know the details of the deal that he has negotiated or isn’t being straight about it’.
Mr Johnson suggested today while out on the campaign trail that while there would be different customs arrangements from Northern Ireland to the rest of the UK, he would not enforce them.
Boris Johnson, pictured visiting a hospital in Mansfield today, sparked controversy after delivering Brexit remarks in Northern Ireland yesterday
Mr Johnson managed to delete the hated Irish border backstop from the Brexit deal as he replaced it with a complex set of customs arrangements.
Those last resort arrangements would effectively amount to customs checks being introduced in the Irish Sea.
It was thought that under the PM’s deal Northern Irish businesses would have to fill out some paperwork to send goods to the rest of the UK.
But Mr Johnson said last night that he could personally guarantee there would be no forms to fill out.
He was asked at an election campaign stop by someone in attendance: ‘Can I go back to my company in the morning and tell my staff we will not be filling in any customs declarations for goods leaving Northern Ireland to go to GB?’
Mr Johnson replied: ‘You can. Absolutely not. And if somebody asks you to do that tell them to ring up the prime minister and I will direct them to throw that form in the bin.’
The man who asked the question then said: ‘Because Steve Barclay said we would.’
Mr Johnson then replied ‘no’ before jokingly asking: ‘What do you export from Northern Ireland? Do you export illegal weapons or endangered species?’
The man said he exported medical supplies and Mr Johnson said: ‘There will be no forms, no checks, no barriers of any kind. You will have unfettered access.’
Sir Keir condemned the PM’s comments and accused Mr Johnson of treating Brexit with an unacceptable level of ‘casualness’.
He told Sky News: ‘This is a prime minister who either doesn’t know the details of the deal that he has negotiated or isn’t being straight about it or probably both.
‘We have seen this so many times from Boris Johnson, the sort of casualness with the detail, pretending that there won’t be checks when it is written into the treaty, pretending that somehow as prime minister he can waive the checks when it is a legal obligation.
‘This is no way to try to seek to run the country.’
Mr Johnson was asked on the campaign trail this afternoon if he was contradicting Mr Barclay and he said: ‘I am not going to hide it from you that Northern Ireland has a good deal but so does the whole of the UK.’
On the specific issue of different customs arrangements from Northern Ireland into the UK, Mr Johnson was asked if he was saying that he would just not enforce them and he replied: ‘That’s right.’
The footage of the remarks was published by the Manufacturing Northern Ireland group on Twitter.
An earlier video from the same event with Mr Johnson sparked Remainer fury after it showed the PM telling business leaders that Northern Ireland would ‘keep free movement’ after Brexit under his deal.
Mr Johnson said: ‘So actually Northern Ireland has got a great deal. It has 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.
Sir Keir Starmer, pictured in Harlow on Tuesday, said the video of Mr Johnson suggested the PM did not understand his own Brexit deal
‘We can also come out and do free trade deals.’
Pro-EU politicians pounced on the reference to ‘free movement’ as they asked why Northern Ireland could have the ‘great’ deal while the rest of the UK could not.
The Liberal Democrats’ Brexit spokesman Tom Brake said: ‘The single market and freedom of movement are a great deal – even Boris Johnson recognises this – so why isn’t he keeping them for the whole of the UK as part of the many benefits of EU membership?’
However, a Conservative source then was forced to clarify the PM’s remarks as they insisted he had been referring to maintaining the Common Travel Area between Ireland and the UK.
The source told MailOnline: ‘The Prime Minister got a great new deal from the European Union which protects the Common Travel Area and allows the whole of the UK to leave the customs union while avoiding north south checks which is exactly what he was referring to in that video.’
The Common Travel Area is a long-standing arrangement between the UK and Ireland which allows the citizens of the two nations to move freely between them.