Boris Johnson Seeks to Calm Northern Irish Concern Over Brexit Plan

(Bloomberg) --

Prime Minister Boris Johnson sought to assuage concern in Northern Ireland that his Brexit deal will economically cut off the region from the rest of the U.K.

The border between Ireland and Northern Ireland dogged the divorce talks between the U.K. and the European Union for two years before Johnson effectively agreed to keep the region in the EU’s customs union and large parts of its single market. That was opposed by unionist parties, who argued the move risks creating barriers to trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland and splitting the U.K.

“The only circumstances in which you could imagine the need for checks from GB to NI, as I have explained before, is if those goods were going on into Ireland and we had not secured -- which I hope and am confident we will -- a zero tariff, zero quota agreement with our friends and partners in the EU,” Johnson told reporters in Belfast on Monday.

Some trade experts say, even if there’s a Free Trade Agreement with the bloc, checks will be needed to ensure goods going to Northern Ireland from the rest of the U.K. meet EU standards. Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay told the House of Commons in October that “some information will be needed” on goods going to the region and there would be “targeted interventions” on goods passing in the other direction.

Johnson was in Northern Ireland to meet with the leaders of the power-sharing executive, which was restored over the weekend after three years of deadlock. The assembly will regularly have a vote on the Brexit arrangements Johnson negotiated for Northern Ireland, with the first ballot in Belfast set for four years after the end of the transition period.

“The arrangements that we have put in place under the Northern Ireland protocol automatically evaporate after 4 years unless the assembly decides that they want to protract them,” Johnson said. “So there are plenty of protections for Northern Irish business, farmers and others.”

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