Boris Johnson branded 'disgrace' after failing to answer border questions
PUBLISHED: 14:22 28 February 2018 | UPDATED: 14:45 28 February 2018
Boris Johnson has been branded a "disgrace" after failing to answer questions in the Commons about his suggestion that a hard border in Northern Ireland remained a possibility.
MPs heckled and jeered the foreign secretary who left the chamber after prime minister's questions - despite an urgent question from Labour on his comments.
The former London mayor got up from the frontbench to leave, appeared to change his mind and briefly sat down again, then had another change of heart and scuttled out of the chamber.
He had caused controversy after a memo to Theresa May was leaked which suggested the government should focus on preventing the frontier becoming "significantly" harder.
Shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry, who secured the question, described Mr Johnson's absence as a "huge discourtesy".
She said: "It is an absolute disgrace and a huge discourtesy to this House that the foreign secretary is not here himself to answer the questions of his memo.
"What is he afraid of? Perhaps it's this, these questions go to the very heart of his credibility and the credibility of previous statements that's he's made in this House."
Ms Thornberry went on to quote statements Mr Johnson had made from 2016 to the last few weeks in which he had said the border arrangements in Northern Ireland would remain "absolutely unchanged".
She added: "Contrary to the foreign secretary's previous statements, he accepts that there will have to be changes to the current border arrangements, he accepts that there will need to be border controls that do not exist at present.
"The only debate is the degree of hardness, but surely the foreign secretary has learned by now that you can't just be a little bit pregnant, either there is a border or there is not."
Ms Thornberry concluded by saying: "The truth of this memo is that they are saying one thing in public, whilst they're preparing for the reality in private. It is about time that this deception was ended."
Cabinet Office minister David Lidington, who responded on behalf of the government, told MPs that as he had cabinet responsibility for constitutional affairs it was "perfectly reasonable" he, and not the foreign secretary, should be responding to the question.
He said: "She asked about the position of the foreign secretary, he like every other member of the cabinet stands foursquare behind our support for the Belfast Agreement and for the December agreement reached between the United Kingdom and the European Union.
"We are now at the very start of a negotiating period during which we will be discussing with our partners in the European Union how to give practical effect to the commitments that were entered into then."
Later in the debate Labour former minister Yvette Cooper said the Police Service of Northern Ireland had warned that "any infrastructure at the borders is a threat".
She asked Mr Lidington: "Will he confirm that ministers rule out any physical infrastructure at the border, that cameras are physical and tell us do they rule out new cameras at the border, yes or no?"
Mr Lidington said: "We stand by the words we committed ourselves to in December which includes no physical infrastructure at the border."
Tory rebel and former minister Anna Soubry said the country had to "wake up" and "realise we are not going to rip our nation further apart".
Ms Soubry said the "only solution to a hard border" was membership of the customs union and single market and asked "where is the voice" of the 56% of people in Northern Ireland who voted remain.