Boris Johnson dodges question on when he last visited Irish border

Prime Minister Boris Johnson meets Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson meets Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire. - Credit: PA

Boris Johnson has dodged a question on when he last visited the Irish border - and whether he still believes it's like crossing between Camden and Islington.

Irish journalists were probing the British prime minister on how much he understands about the border when he visited Dublin.

Various reporters tried to find out when he had last visited the border, with Kevin Doyle from the Irish Independent also asking, as well as quizzing him on his remarks last year about its significance.

"When you talk about people being found dead in ditches, there's a sense in this country you really don't understand what is at stake here.

"As Tommy asked, when was the last time you did go to the border? Have you crossed the open border like ministers from 12 EU have.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson meets Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson meets Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire.

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"Do you still think it is like crossing from Camden to Islington?"

In February 2018, Johnson told Radio 4's Today programme: "We think that we can have very efficient facilitation systems to make sure that there's no need for a hard border, excessive checks at the frontier between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

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"There's no border between Islington or Camden and Westminster, there's no border between Camden and Westminster, but when I was mayor of London we anaesthetically and invisibly took hundreds of millions of pounds from the accounts of people travelling between those two boroughs [through the congestion charge] without any need for border checks whatever."

Typically, Johnson avoided answering the question in Dublin.

MORE: Memo to Boris Johnson: Why the Irish border isn't Camden and Islington

In answer to a first question, he said: "I've seen the old border and how absolutely vital it is we keep the open border, on the plan, it's fairly obvious, we need to find a way of ensuring that the UK is not kept locked in backstop arrangement while giving Ireland the assurance that it needs," he said.

"Whether it's electronic pre-clearance or concept of the unity of island for agri-foods, and other ideas we'll bring forward to address the full range.

"I don't underestimate the technical problems but I do think there is a way through."

Asked a second time, he responded: "We've got to get on and do this. Yes, of course, I think everybody in the UK and Ireland understand the fantastic political importance and sensitivities of the border. That's why we make our unilaterial declaration that under no circumstances there won't be any checks at that border imposed by the UK - that will never happen - we must ensure there is an open border and that goods and people can circulate in the normal way. That is what we will get done.

"But we also must simultaneously allow the UK's decision to be honoured, and that is the question that has bedelived the talks over the last three years.

"I genuinely believe it can be done, and I am delighted it is being approached in a very positive way by government's around the EU and obviously here in Dublin."

Up to 100 demonstrators gathered outside Leinster House in Dublin ahead of Johnson's visit to Dublin.

The protest was led by Seamus McDonnell from Co Armagh who chanted: "No customs, no border, no Brexit."

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