Jacob Rees-Mogg admitted having ‘no idea’ what the Irish border is, says former Irish PM

Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern tells the Women in Media conference that Jacob Rees-Mogg is "a lovely

Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern tells the Women in Media conference that Jacob Rees-Mogg is "a lovely fellow when he's asleep". Picture: Women in Media conference 2019 / YouTube - Credit: Women in Media conference 2019 / YouTube

The former Taoiseach leader Bertie Ahern said that in conversations with Jacob Rees-Mogg about the Irish backstop, the Brexiteer admitted he had 'no idea what the border was'.

Taoiseach's Bertie Ahern. Photograph: Barry Batchelor/PA.

Taoiseach's Bertie Ahern. Photograph: Barry Batchelor/PA. - Credit: �2004 Credit:Topham / PA

The revelation was made to gales of laughter at the 2019 Women in Media conference at Ballybunion, County Kerry.

The Fianna Fáil leader was in a panel discussion on Brexit chaired by journalist Sarah Carey, lecturer Dr Mary C. Murphy, and Mairead McGuinness, the first vice-president of the European Parliament.

Ahern had been discussing the fuss in British politics around the backstop and talked about his visits to different Brexit committees.

'Rees-Mogg, he's a lovely fellow when he's asleep,' he said to laughter and applause.

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'And when he's awake he is definitely a strange fish in or out of water, but the reality is he admitted to me that he had no idea what the border was.

'I think a lot of British politicians thought the border was something up around Dundalk and Newry, that there was a gate on it and people went in and out the gate.

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'I mean the idea that it was 460km across the island and that you could criss-cross it and there were farms and houses - they just didn't know it.'

Ahern said that the issue was being overblown by British politicians as 'an excuse to have a go'.

The backstop, he said, is a negotiating 'safety net' that will never actually be needed.

'The backstop - I think people think it's some massive 1,000-page document or something,' he said.

'It's essentially a safety net. If there's no Brexit deal it would avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the republic.

'That is all it is - it's very important, but that's all it is.'

Adding that it would also ensure no tariffs, quotas, and rules of origin being applied, he argued that there will eventually be a deal.

'So the backstop will never be required,' he said.

'The backstop will never happen. And it was only there as a safety net if that did happen that you need it.

'So I don't see what the big deal ... I think it was a negotiating position [for] if it was a doomsday, but that's all it was.'

Turning the discussion to how you negotiate with irrational people, moderator Sarah Carey added her own reminiscences of the future Tory Brexiteers Jacob Rees-Mogg, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, from her student debating days.

'We'd have these debating competitions between universities, and Rees-Mogg would show up looking exactly as he does today, he has not changed a single bit.'

She added how Gove, Johnson and Rees-Mogg used to fight over who would be the president of the Oxford debating union, saying 'they're still having the same row.

'They haven't changed. And the problem is - they're in control.'

Adding that she also considered Jeremy Corbyn to be a Brexiteer, she asked: 'How do you behave as a rational actor when the other side are not rational?'

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