Boris Johnson has dismissed Irish demands for a five-year Brexit transition as the gulf deepens between London and Dublin over future of the Northern Ireland border.

The UK foreign secretary insisted it was possible to provide enough reassurance to business “within a much shorter timescale” than the five years proposed by Irish counterpart, Simon Coveney.

At talks in Dublin, the divisions between Mr Johnson and Mr Coveney were clear. Mr Johnson said: “I wasn’t aware of the proposal from Simon for such a long transitional period – but I think I understand the sentiment behind it which is that everybody wants to have the maximum possible reassurrance.”

He added: “What we would like to do is get on as fast as possible therefore with the meat of the negotiation, get the real conversation going about how this is going to work but really start digging into the detail.”

Although Mr Coveney said more clarity was required from Britain on the border before moving into the next phase of the talks, Mr Johnson indicated he saw no need to provide guarantees to Dublin on border questions ahead of trade negotiations.

Both Ireland and Britain want to avoid customs checks on the frontier after Brexit but Dublin wants written commitment from London – before trade talks begin – that it will stand by that objective in the negotiation. While the British government wants to leave the European customs union and internal market when leaving the EU, Ireland believes the only way to avoid border posts is for the UK to remain in the customs union or enter new arrangements that are similar to it.

Tension between London and Dublin escalated last week when the European Commission circulated a paper that suggested Northern Ireland should remain in the customs union to avoid a hard border, something the British government immediately rejected.

“I think you will understand that the issues of the Northern Irish border and how it works are intellectually intimately bound up with the questions of the customs union, the single market, Britain’s relationship with those,” Mr Johnson told reporters. “Those questions have been reserved by the [European] Commission for study in stage two of the negotiations.”

But Mr Coveney pressed for more detail from the UK foreign secretary. “There are issues that need – as I say – more clarity so that we can accept that we’re at a point of sufficient progress to be able to move to where everybody wants to be which is to be providing businesses with a lot more certainty,” he said.

“We simply don’t see how we can avoid border infrastructure – whether it’s on the border or somewhere else on the island – if we have regulatory divergence in Northern Ireland versus the rest of the island because once standards change, once the rulebook changes essentially it creates difference between the two jurisdictions on the island of Ireland and when you have a different rulebook applied to trade and business well then you are starting to go down the route of having to have checks and inspections and so on.”

(Image: AFP Photo / Getty)

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