Monday 27 May 2019

Johnson coy over leadership - but says Brexit deal could work if backstop thrown out

Dissenting voice: Boris Johnson stretches in the studio before going live on BBC One current affairs programme ‘The Andrew Marr Show’. Photo: Reuters
Dissenting voice: Boris Johnson stretches in the studio before going live on BBC One current affairs programme ‘The Andrew Marr Show’. Photo: Reuters

David Hughes

Boris Johnson has refused to rule out challenging Theresa May for the Tory leadership as he warned her Brexit deal left the UK open to "blackmail" by Brussels.

The former foreign secretary said it was "nonsense" to suggest he had already begun offering jobs in a future Johnson administration to fellow Tories, but sidestepped the opportunity to promise not to stand against the prime minister.

He said her Brexit deal could get through the Commons if it was stripped of the backstop - an insurance policy to prevent a hard Border on the island of Ireland - insisting that would be "relatively simple" to achieve.

Mr Johnson, one of the leading players in the Leave campaign in the referendum, said people should not "underestimate the deep sense of personal responsibility I feel for Brexit".

Mrs May's future hangs in the balance, with a heavy defeat in tomorrow's Commons showdown likely to lead to fresh pressure on her leadership.

Asked to give an "absolute, categorical promise" that he would not stand against the prime minister, Mr Johnson said: "I will give you an absolute, categorical promise that I will continue to advocate what I think is the most sensible plan."

Challenged on whether he had already begun speaking to colleagues to offer them roles in his future government, Mr Johnson told the BBC's 'Andrew Marr Show': "I can tell you that's nonsense."

Setting out his Brexit plan, Mr Johnson said resolving the Irish Border issue should be postponed so it forms part of the talks on a future trade deal and the UK should withhold a "substantial chunk" of the £39bn (€43.5bn) divorce bill until that deal is done.

Preparations should also be stepped up for a no-deal Brexit, he said. And he admitted he would feel personally responsible if people lost their jobs in a no-deal departure from the EU.

"Of course I will," he said. "Do not underestimate the deep sense of personal responsibility I feel for Brexit and for everything that has happened.

"Do not underestimate how much I care about this because this is fundamental to our country and it absolutely breaks my heart to think - after all we fought for, all we campaigned for, all (Brexit Secretary) Steve Barclay campaigned for, everybody believes in - we should consign ourselves to a future in which the EU effectively rules us in many respects and yet we have no say in Brussels.

"That is an absurdity. We cannot go down that route."

Meanwhile, another Brexiteer ex-cabinet minister, Esther McVey, said she would give "serious concern" to standing for the leadership.

Irish Independent

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