Leave campaigner Nigel Farage has said the issue of the Northern Ireland border has been used by European Union chief negotiator Michel Barnier to “trap Theresa May” into keeping the UK in a customs union.
During a visit to Christchurch, Dorset, Mr Farage said he believed the “establishment” had been attempting to water down Brexit, but he felt that there had been a shift in the past 24 hours.
He said: “Every leading exponent on both Remain side and Leave side say: ‘If you vote to leave, you are leaving the union, you are leaving the customs union, you are leaving the single market.’ It could not be clearer.
“And what we have had is an over two-year attempt by the establishment to water it down, delay it, in some cases even to stop it, but I do begin to think in the last 24 hours maybe the establishment have hit the wall.
“I want Brexit. If you think there should be a border, a hard border (in Ireland), let’s work it out, shall we?
“There’s a different currency between the north and the south, different income tax rates, different excise rates, different corporation tax rates – if you need to have a hard border because of differences, there should be one there today.
“If we have a simple free trade deal with the European Union that would be a non-issue because there would be no excise duties to collect.
“On the argument of different specifications of products, hey, at the moment we have exactly the same specs as Northern Ireland.
“You could say in five or 10 years’ time, there might be one or two industries where we have some differences, but if you buy a washing machine now you can track on your mobile phone exactly where it is.
“We are not at the days… Southampton is just down the road, every day there are tens of thousands of containers that come in from China, we do not open them and check them, they are logged and registered and the excise duty is paid.
“The truth of the Northern Ireland border, the real truth is, it is being used very cleverly by Monsieur Barnier to trap Theresa May in a position.
“You see, the one thing Europe don’t want is us to leave the single market rules and become competitive.”
When asked if he still considered a “hard Brexit” as the best way forward, he said: “What is hard Brexit? Would you explain what it is?
“I had never heard of it until we won the referendum and then it was invented by the other side. Hard Brexit bad, soft Brexit lovely and cuddly.
“What they meant by soft Brexit was not leaving, it was Brexit in name only.
“That’s the path the Prime Minister has been determined to pursue but I think she is beginning to realise out in the country and increasingly on her own back benches, they won’t put up with it.”
When asked if he was concerned about the legal and administrative consequences of a hard Brexit, such as planes not being allowed to fly from the UK to the EU, Mr Farage said: “How does any of the world exist outside of the European Union? It’s a miracle to me really.
“There are of course neighbourly issues that have to be sorted out, of course that is right.
“In terms of a deal, it’s quite simple actually. The European Union has been saying to me for 20 years, if you want a free trade arrangement, what we now call a Canada-style deal, it’s there, it’s an offer on the table, it’s what the British Government should have gone for from day one.
“Failing that, if they really want – and goodness me, how many German motor cars have I seen on the roads this morning? And no doubt French wines sold in bars down this street? – failing that, we will leave and have a WTO (World Trade Organisation) deal as most of the world does, and there is nothing to fear from that, either.”
Mr Farage was speaking ahead of a Leave Means Leave rally in Bournemouth with Wetherspoons CEO Tim Martin, DUP spokesman Sammy Wilson, Labour Leave’s Brendan Chilton and Bournemouth West Conservative MP Conor Burns.
During his visit to the Dorset town market, Mr Farage was presented with a cat collar and leash by a pet accessories stall-holder, who joked it was for Prime Minister Theresa May.
Laughing, Mr Farage said: “Brilliant, this is for Mrs May.”
He added: “These guys on the market have a great sense of humour.”