LONDON — The EU refused to accept workable alternatives to the Northern Irish backstop because it wants the U.K. to stay in the customs union, Conservative leadership candidate Jeremy Hunt said Tuesday.
In an interview with the BBC, the U.K. foreign secretary argued the bloc was playing hardball in the talks to negotiate “the best outcome” for itself despite the technology being there to eliminate the need for the controversial mechanism.
He also took aim at his rival for No. 10 Downing Street, Boris Johnson, whom he branded untrustworthy and accused of setting a “fake deadline” on Brexit.
Both Hunt and Johnson have vowed to renegotiate the backstop and use technology to keep tabs on goods flowing across the Northern Irish border to prevent a hard frontier.
Hunt said he was loyal to Theresa May on the backstop — the insurance policy designed to maintain an open border on the island of Ireland — but “never thought that was the right approach.”
He said the technology to approach the border puzzle in a different way was “ready” to go — despite Brussels and other critics repeatedly insisting the necessary measures do not currently exist.
Hunt added: “But the EU have not wanted to accept this kind of solution because the hope is that we might stay in this thing called the customs union where we have to stick to [their] tariffs. But I think they know now that wont get through parliament.”
Pressed on his claim that the EU was not prepared to listen, Hunt added: “Well this is a negotiation and they obviously are going to negotiate for what is for them the best outcome.”
Johnson this morning vowed to take the U.K. out of the bloc by the current October 31 Brexit deadline, “do or die,” but Hunt has said he could accept an extension if a deal was close.
Hunt told the BBC he would make the call on whether or not to go for a no-deal Brexit before the end of October, but failed to spell out exactly when.