Giving an extensive BBC interview after facing criticism for ducking media scrutiny, the Conservative leadership frontrunner insisted he was not aiming for a no-deal Brexit.
“I think that we can get to a situation in which we are able to leave smoothly with an orderly, managed Brexit, and that’s what we should be aiming for,” he told the World at One. “But the only way to make sure that we convince our partners that we’re determined to get that outcome is to prepare for no deal – and I think people do understand that.”
Asked what he would do about the backstop, which he described as “that prison, that Hobson’s choice”, Johnson pointed to the Brady amendment. Passed by parliament in January, with the support of the government, the amendment called for the backstop to be replaced with unspecified “alternative arrangements” – although the government then tried to renegotiate this with Brussels and failed.
Johnson suggested this could be the “maximum facilitation” approach he advocated while in Theresa May’s cabinet, from which he resigned over her Chequers deal last summer.
Asked about the challenges of checking goods that cross what will become the external border of the EU if, as he intends, there are different regulations on either side, he said that was “easily capable of solution”.
“The obvious way to do it is to make sure that you have checks on everybody who breaks the law, but you do it away from the border,” he said, adding that the full details should be left to work out as part of the next phase of negotiations over Britain’s future trading relationship with the EU.
“The facilitations that need to be provided to enable that to take place – those should not be preordained by the backstop. They should be remitted into the implementation period for discussion after we have left,” he said.
The EU27 have repeatedly insisted on the backstop as the legal underpinning of both sides’ commitment to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
“Our friends and partners over the channel will say we can’t do this, this is a unicorn,” Johnson said. “But I think there is a solution to be arrived at in this area, and we should work hard for it.”