James Forsyth

Boris Johnson’s conference speech will be quickly overshadowed

Boris Johnson's conference speech will be quickly overshadowed
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In a lengthy interview on the Today programme this morning, Boris Johnson denied that the UK’s plans for the Irish border will require checks a few miles from the border. When asked if the UK was proposing a ‘hard border’ a few miles in from the border, he said ‘absolutely not’. But he did say that it is ‘just the reality’ that there will have to be checks somewhere. 

Given that Ireland and the EU have made checks anywhere on the island of Ireland a red line, there is going to have to be movement from one side or the other if there is to be a deal. Boris Johnson was also adamant, unsurprisingly, that the UK must leave the EU as a single customs territory—in other words, Northern Ireland could not be left in the EU customs territory as the Northern Ireland only backstop proposed. Boris Johnson was, though, keen to stress that he does want a deal.

Under questioning from Nick Robinson, Boris Johnson did not rule out him instructing the government to try and obstruct the workings of the EU if it granted the extension that parliament is compelling him to ask for in the case of no agreement being reached. I personally think that this isn’t quite the threat some people think it is given that the Tories have no majority in parliament. If the UK was to start trying to pull things down from inside, I suspect Boris Johnson would be no confidenced in the Commons.  

On the Charlotte Edwardes story, the claim that Boris Johnson squeezed her upper thigh at a Spectator lunch in 1999, Boris Johnson again denied the story.

At the end of the interview, Nick Robinson—who has known Boris Johnson since they were rivals at the Oxford Union in the 1980s —said he had made the interview so personal because people say that Boris Johnson has changed. Boris Johnson responded that he hadn’t but that he had been tasked with getting the UK out of the EU. He then pivoted back to his message that ‘the only way to unify the country is to get Brexit done.’

Tomorrow will see Boris Johnson’s first conference speech as Prime Minister. But I suspect that it will be quickly overshadowed by how the EU reacts to the British offer. By the end of this week, we will have a much clearer sense of whether there is any chance of a Brexit deal by 19 October or if we are heading for a mighty row over the government’s attempt to get around the Benn Act.