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

PUBLISHED: 16:06 29 April 2019 | UPDATED: 16:45 29 April 2019

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

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

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.

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.

“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.

“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.

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“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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