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Johnson criticised after praising Northern Ireland's single market access

Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

By Patrick Daly & Megan Baynes, PA Reporters

The Prime Minister has praised his Withdrawal Agreement as a "great deal" for Northern Ireland because it keeps "access to the single market" - despite wanting to pull the rest of the UK out.

Speaking to Conservatives in Northern Ireland, Boris Johnson talked up his exit terms with the European Union for its ability to keep single market access and free movement for Northern Ireland.

Mr Johnson, in a video posted on Twitter by Manufacturing NI, said: "Northern Ireland has got a great deal. You keep free movement, you keep access to the single market but you also have, as it says in the deal, unfettered access to GB."

The Liberal Democrats have criticised the PM following his comments for wanting to treat the six counties differently to the rest of Britain.

His Brexit deal with the EU will see Britain leave the single market and customs union but with Northern Ireland following different rules to prevent a hard border.

Tom Brake, the Lib Dems' Brexit spokesman, said: "The single market and freedom of movement are a great deal - even Boris Johnson recognises this.

"So why isn't he keeping them for the whole of the UK as part of the many benefits of EU membership?

"It is clear that the best deal for the UK is the one we have now - in the EU," said the anti-Brexit politician.

The former London mayor looked to clarify his comments when interviewed by broadcasters on Friday.

The PM replied: "I'm not going to hide it from you that Northern Ireland has a good deal but so does the the whole of the UK."

Mr Johnson also appeared to contradict evidence given by Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay by telling supporters that goods between Northern Ireland and Great Britain would not face checks as a result of his Brexit agreement.

Mr Barclay had told MPs that "minimal targeted interventions" would be required on some goods travelling between the two areas of the UK, due to Northern Ireland remaining aligned with Dublin and Brussels rules for the trade of goods.

But the Conservative Party leader said his Government would "not enact such checks".

He reiterated the comment during a hospital visit in the Midlands during an interview with journalists.

"Northern Ireland and the rest of GB are part of the UK customs territory and there can be no checks between goods operating in one customs territory," he told them.

"We're the UK. We will not be instituting such checks."

In the original comments made during a campaign trip to Tandragee in Country Armagh on Thursday, he said: "There will not be tariffs or checks on goods coming from GB to Northern Ireland that are not going on to Ireland.

"There will not be checks - and I speak as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and a passionate Unionist.

"There will not be checks on goods going from Northern Ireland to Great Britain because we are the Government of the United Kingdom and we will not institute or implement or enact such checks.

"And the idea that Tayto crisps from Tandragee are going to be vetted by some process, it is just nonsense."

The PM was responding to a question from Irwin Armstrong, owner of CIGA Healthcare, a company that makes small shipments to pharmacies in Britain worth no more than £100 each.

Mr Armstrong said he was not sure if the former journalist was being "absolutely serious in his answer".

The businessman told the PA news agency: "I want to believe him, but is he just being bombastic and being Boris?

"I don't know Boris Johnson well enough, whether it's just what you say on a campaign trail or whether he is absolutely serious."

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