In an apparent reference to the London congestion charge, Mr Johnson told BBC radio: “There’s no border between Islington or Camden and Westminster, there’s no border between Camden and Westminster, but when I was mayor of London we anaesthetically and invisibly took hundreds of millions of pounds from the accounts of people travelling between those two boroughs without any need for border checks whatever.”
Challenged on whether the comparison was appropriate, he added: “It’s a very relevant comparison because there’s all sorts of scope for pre-booking, electronic checks, all sorts of things that you can do to obviate the need for a hard border to allow us to come out of the customs union, take back control of our trade policy and do trade deals.”
Mr Johnson’s use of the analogy of London boroughs sparked an immediate backlash
Labour MP David Lammy tweeted: “Did our Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson really just compare the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland to the border between Camden and Islington on @BBCr4today just now? God help us all this isn’t just stupidity and ignorance but wilful recklessness #r4today”.
Labour MP Chris Leslie, from Pro-EU campaign group Open Britain, said: “To compare the border between two sovereign states, the UK and the Republic of Ireland, to the boundaries between different London boroughs is not only patently ridiculous but also shows staggering insensitivity and a stupefying ignorance of a conflict in which over 3,000 people died between 1969 and the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.”
Remain-backing Labour peer Andrew Adonis added: “What a relief! Boris Johnson says ‘very efficient facilitation systems’ will deal with Brexit border in Ireland. Says it’s like the border between Camden & Westminster. What planet? #stopbrexit”.
Colum Eastwood, leader of the Northern Irish Social Democratic and Labour Party, suggested Mr Johnson visits the border.
“When @BorisJohnson decides to come down from the other planet that he clearly inhabits he’s welcome to come and actually visit the Irish border,” he tweeted.
His comments came amid concerns that the UK leaving a customs union after Brexit could lead to the restoration of a hard Irish border.
The European Commission is expected soon to set out in a document a last resort to prevent a hard border, by which Northern Ireland would remain in the EU customs union and aligned to EU single market rules.
The refusal by Prime Minister Theresa May to keep Britain in a customs union and single market has restricted options for how to deal with the Irish border question.
Navigating the issue is likely to be a key sticking point between both the UK and the EU, and also between the Conservatives and the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party which is supporting Mrs May’s government.
Mr Johnson also suggested he was growing weary of talking about Brexit, despite leading the Vote Leave campaign in 2016’s referendum.
“I think there’s a very good deal to be done, one day we’ll be sitting here not talking about Brexit, it’s going to be fantastic,” he said.