Theresa May today was unable to promise there would be no hard border with Ireland if the Brexit talks break down, instead repeating the UK would do “everything it can” to avoid customs checks.
Speaking just hours before the Conservative Party conference is due to start in Birmingham, the Prime Minister launched a defence of her much criticised Chequers-proposal, which would see the UK follow the EU’s rules on goods and agri-foods to help avoid a hard border with Ireland.
She hit out at an alternative trade deal backed by Brexiteers including Boris Johnson, which would see the need for customs checks, although they claim these could be carried out away from the border.
But when challenged that the implications for ‘no deal’ – which May still claims is a possibility – would mean a hard border with Ireland because of requirements under World Trade Organisation rules, May was unable to guarantee no physical checks would take place.
Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, she said: “If we leave with no deal, we, as the United Kingdom government, are still committed to doing everything we can to ensure there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.”
When reminded of the WTO commitments, May replied: “As a United Kingdom government we remain committed to doing everything we can to ensure no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.
“There is only one plan on the table at the moment hat provides for that frictionless trade across the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland and indeed between the United Kingdom’s other borders with the European Union and that is the plan the United Kingdom government has put forward that has become known as the Chequers plan.”
May’s attempts to secure EU backing for her plan was dealt a severe blow earlier this month when European Council President Donald Tusk said it “will not work.”
The Prime Minister delivered a passionate rebuttal to the negativity emanating from Brussels in a speech from Downing Street days later, and today she reiterated her call for the EU to spell out its precise objections and put forward counter-proposals.
She said: "The point is very simple. Until we know what their problem is - that’s what we need; we need to know what their concerns are."
It is not just the EU that needs to be convinced of the merits of the Chequers proposal. Many in May’s own party believe the plan would leave the UK still following EU rules and regulations without having a say.
On the eve of the conference, Boris Johnson used an interview in the Sunday Times to attack May’s Brexit plan as “deranged” and “preposterous”.