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Boris Johnson claims British never wanted to solve issues around the Irish border

Boris Johnson said Britain had 'gone into battle with the white flag fluttering over our leading tank'. Picture by Aaron Chown/PA Wire

BORIS Johnson has claimed the British government never wanted to solve the vexed issue of the Irish border because it saw it as a way of avoiding a hard Brexit.

The former foreign secretary, who resigned from the cabinet in July over Theresa May's Chequers' proposals, claimed many of his former colleagues wanted a "Brexit in name only".

In his Daily Telegraph column, the leading Brexiteer said solving the issue of the border "would mean a solution for Dover-Calais, and they didn't really want that".

"They wanted essentially to stay in, and to create a Brexit in name only. They have been rumbled. People can see Chequers means disaster," he wrote.

Mr Johnson claimed the border issue was "fixable".

"The scandal is not that we have failed, but that we have not even tried," he said.

Downing Street yesterday delivered a stinging slapdown to the former minister, saying he has produced "no new ideas" on Brexit.

In a barely-veiled rebuff to Mr Johnson's ambitions to become prime minister, Mr May's official spokesman said Britain needed "serious leadership with a serious plan" which was being provided by the current premier.

In what was seen by many at Westminster as an opening salvo in a bid to oust the prime minister, the ex-foreign secretary insisted the UK was "lying flat on the canvas" in withdrawal talks.

Britain had "gone into battle with the white flag fluttering over our leading tank" due to Mrs May's Chequers proposals to align UK standards on goods to the EU, Mr Johnson said.

Mr Johnson's column compared the withdrawal negotiations between Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab and the EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier to a rigged wrestling match.

"The UK has agreed to hand over £40 billion of taxpayers' money for two-thirds of diddly squat," he said.

Mr Johnson argued that a hard border would not be needed after Brexit because people did not need to be checked due to the Common Travel Area, while any checks on goods could be carried out away from the border.

He said that under the Chequers plan, "we will remain in the EU taxi, but this time locked in the boot, with absolutely no say on the destination".

But the prime minister's spokesman retorted: "The Chequers proposals are the only credible and negotiable plan which has been put forward and which will deliver on the will of the British people."

The former foreign secretary's latest column came as Mrs May faced growing opposition on Tory benches to the compromise deal agreed by the cabinet at her country residence in July, with Brexiteers warning it will be voted down if it comes before Westminster.

With MPs returning from recess today, the Tory leader is expected to face a coordinated effort from hardline Brexiteers to abandon her exit agenda amid reports that election strategist Sir Lynton Crosby is involved in a "chuck Chequers" campaign.

Meanwhile, the viability of the Chequers model was also coming under question in Brussels, with Mr Barnier telling a German newspaper that he is "strongly opposed" to elements of the plan.

Mrs May's proposals, which would see the UK remain in a free trade area for goods while ending freedom of movement, would involve "insane and unjustifiable bureaucracy", said Mr Barnier.

The prime minister's spokesman insisted that the Chequers plan had received "a positive response" from a number of EU leaders and said that Number 10 believes it "can carry the support of the House of Commons".

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