Thursday 17 January 2019

'Brexit dream is dying' - Boris Johnson claims Britain is heading for 'the status of a colony' to the EU

File photo: Boris Johnson
File photo: Boris Johnson
David Davis warned that the UK is giving ‘too much away, too easily’ in the Brexit talks (Victoria Jones/PA)
EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier

Andrew Woodcock, Sam Lister and David Wilcock

Boris Johnson has dramatically quit as foreign secretary, complaining that Theresa May's plan for Brexit would leave the UK a "colony" of the European Union.

In a scathing resignation letter to the British Prime Minister, Mr Johnson said that, under her leadership, the UK was "heading for a semi-Brexit", with the dream of an outward-looking global Britain "dying, suffocated by needless self-doubt".

Mr Johnson's shock departure was the second resignation of a Cabinet "big beast" in less than 24 hours, after Brexit secretary David Davis walked out late on Sunday.

Brexit minister Steve Baker also left the UK Government.

Both Mr Johnson and Mr Davis had signed up on Friday to Mrs May's blueprint for Brexit at an all-day summit at Chequers which the Prime Minister believed had secured Cabinet unity behind her proposals.

But her administration was thrown into disarray within 48 hours, as first Mr Davis and then Mr Johnson said that they could not commit themselves to promote the plans under the doctrine of collective responsibility.

Mr Johnson wrote: "On Friday, I acknowledged that my side of the argument were too few to prevail and congratulated you on at least reaching a Cabinet decision on the way forward.

"As I said then, the Government now has a song to sing.

"The trouble is that I have practised the words over the weekend and I find they stick in the throat.

"We must have collective responsibility.

"Since I cannot in all conscience champion these proposals, I have sadly concluded that I must go."

Mr Johnson openly described Mrs May's customs proposals as "crazy" and was widely reported to have told the Chequers meeting that putting a positive gloss on her plans would be like "polishing a turd".

In his letter of resignation, he described her readiness to accept a "common rulebook" with the EU in trade on goods and her proposal of "impractical and undeliverable customs arrangements" as being like "sending our vanguard into battle with the white flags fluttering above them".

Mr Johnson wrote: "Brexit should be about opportunity and hope. It should be a chance to do things differently, to be more nimble and dynamic and to maximise the particular advantages of the UK as an open, outward-looking global economy.

"That dream is dying, suffocated by needless self-doubt.

"We have postponed crucial decisions - including the preparations for no deal, as I argued in my letter to you of last November - with the result that we appear to be heading for a semi-Brexit with large parts of the economy still locked into the EU system but with no UK control over that system."

Jeremy Hunt will replace Mr Johnson as Foreign Secretary, Downing Street has said.

Mr Johnson's exit was announced by Downing Street moments before Mrs May faced the House of Commons to set out details of her plans.

The announcement came amid intense speculation about the Foreign Secretary's intentions, after he missed a meeting of the UK Government's Cobra emergencies committee to discuss the Salisbury poisonings and stood up ministers from across Europe who had attended a Western Balkans summit which he was supposed to be hosting.

The UK Prime Minister was greeted by loud cheers from Tory MPs and shouts of "resign" from the opposition benches as she arrived to deliver a statement in which she said her proposals would deliver "a Brexit that is in our national interest ... the right Brexit deal for Britain".

Mrs May heard Eurosceptic Tory backbencher Peter Bone tell how activists in his Wellingborough constituency refused to campaign at the weekend because they felt "betrayed" by the Chequers accord.

But she insisted her deal fulfilled the promises of the Tory manifesto to deliver an independent Britain able to take back control of its laws, borders and money, declaring: "This is not a betrayal."

She told MPs she wanted to recognise Mr Davis's work on steering through Parliament some of the "most important legislation for generations" and the "passion" that the outgoing foreign secretary had shown in promoting a "global Britain to the world".

But she said: "We do not agree about the best way of delivering our shared commitment to honour the result of the referendum."

Downing Street made clear Ms May would fight any attempt to oust her by rebel MPs.

Some 48 Tory MPs - 15 per cent of the party's 316-strong representation in the Commons - must write to the chairman of the backbench 1922 Committee, Sir Graham Brady, to trigger a no-confidence vote.

Sir Graham refused to say whether he had received any such letters.

And asked whether Mrs May would fight a no-confidence vote if one was called, a senior Number 10 source said simply: "Yes."

Conservative MP Andrea Jenkyns said she believed that Mrs May's time as Prime Minister was "over", telling BBC Radio 4's Today programme that she wanted a premier who would "provide true leadership and a positive post-Brexit vision for our country".

And senior backbencher Bernard Jenkin said there had been a "massive haemorrhage of trust" in Mrs May.

Asked if Brexiteers needed to put the PM's future to a vote of the Conservative Party, he replied "it may well come to that".

Nigel Farage has said he is ready to seek another stint as Ukip leader if the Brexit process is not "back on track" by March next year.

Mr Farage, who quit as leader following the 2016 EU referendum result, called on Conservative MPs to submit no confidence letters to get rid of the "appalling" Theresa May.

And he said that he would return to the political front line if the Brexit proposals which she brokered at Chequers last Friday were not ditched.

Speaking on his regular LBC radio phone-in, Mr Farage said: "I've already said that if Article 50 gets suspended beyond March 29, I will put myself back into full-time campaigning.

"I will add to that tonight. Gerard Batten, who is the leader of Ukip and has my confidence and support - his term as leader comes to an end in March of next year.

"There will be a leadership contest within Ukip in March next year. If Brexit is not back on track, if we're not actually going to be leaving and if this Chequers agreement has not been broken, I will very seriously consider putting my name forward to run as leader of Ukip again.

"I can assure any Conservatives listening to this, sitting in marginal seats, who are not prepared to stand up and honour the wishes of the electorate, I will make damn sure in that situation that you all lose your seats.

"Because there are millions of Conservative voters very unhappy indeed."

In a message on Twitter, Mr Farage welcomed Boris Johnson's resignation, and suggested that Environment Secretary Michael Gove should follow him out of the Cabinet.

"Bravo @BorisJohnson. Now can we please get rid of the appalling @theresa_may and get Brexit back on track," wrote the former Ukip leader.

"Time for @michaelgove to decide. Party or country, career or principle?"

Eloise Todd, the chief executive of the Best for Britain campaign, said: "Of course Nigel Farage is so keen to force through Brexit - he's one of the elite establishment figures who have already benefited personally from the 2016 referendum.

"It might be hard to think of a messier, more disastrous situation than the one we're in now - but Farage back in politics is what that looks like."

Mr Farage served as Ukip leader between 2006 and 2009, and returned to the job between 2010 and 2016.

He took up the reins for a third time in September and October 2016 after Diane James's surprise resignation after 18 days as leader.

Prominent Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg, the chairman of the European Research Group of Eurosceptic backbenchers, said he had not submitted a letter of no confidence and expected Mrs May to remain at least until the official date of Brexit in March 2019.

Staunch Brexiteer Dominic Raab was named as Mr Davis's replacement as Secretary of State for Leaving the EU, and a new foreign secretary was expected to be in place by the end of the day.

There is added pressure for a swift appointment because the foreign secretary is due to join Mrs May at the Nato summit in Brussels on Wednesday and take part in the events of US President Donald Trump's visit to the UK, which begins on Thursday.

Mr Johnson was the figurehead of the Leave campaign in the 2016 referendum, but dramatically pulled away from an expected leadership bid after losing the support of fellow minister Michael Gove.

Mrs May surprised many by appointing him to the Foreign Office, a position he has frequently used to forge a distinctive position on Brexit, including by setting out his own "red lines" just days before the PM's crucial speech to the Conservative conference last year.

A spokesman for the Taoiseach said that the two British cabinet ministers are matters for Theresa May.

While the Irish government welcomed Friday's agreement, they said "a lot of work" remains, "particularly from the British side".

"We welcome the fact that the British cabinet agreed collectively on detailed proposals for the future relationship between the European Union (EU) and Britain on Friday. And we look forward to seeing greater detail in the UK's White Paper later this week," the spokesperson said.

"There's still a lot of work to do, particularly from the British side. Time is running out.

"The commitments the UK has already signed up to must be translated into the Withdrawal Agreement and we need to intensify efforts on all outstanding issues, especially the protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland."

Earlier on Monday, Ireland's Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed said that the focus of the Irish government is on Mrs May's engagement with the EU and dismissed suggestions that Mr Davis' exit from the cabinet will throw the Prime Minister's latest plan into disarray.

"The fact there may be contrarian voices in the UK is nothing new, we have been listening to them all along," he said.

"We are getting a white paper published in the coming days, the signals are that the direction of travel is significantly better."

Fianna Fail's Brexit spokesperson Lisa Chambers said the double resignation was of "grave concern" but urged the British Government to continue with its plan to publish the white paper this week.

"It is imperative that these resignations do not completely derail the strategy agreed on Friday in Chequers, the detail of which is due to be elaborated on in the white paper," the TD said.

"The October deadline for agreeing a withdrawal agreement is fast approaching and the issue of the border remains unresolved."

UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said Mrs May should make way for a Labour administration if her Government cannot get its act together quickly.

The Chequers agreement "stands as a shattered truce, a sticking plaster over the Cabinet's cracks in this Government", Mr Corbyn told the Commons.

"The future of jobs and investment are now at stake. They, those jobs and that investment, are not a sub-plot in the Tory Party civil war."

The leader of the Scottish Conservatives Ruth Davidson said Mrs May was "correct to accept the Foreign Secretary's resignation".

In a pointed message, the president of the European Council Donald Tusk appeared to suggest that the resignations could spell the end for Brexit.

"Politicians come and go but the problems they have created for people remain," said Mr Tusk.

"I can only regret that the idea of Brexit has not left with Davis and Johnson. But ... who knows?"

Press Association

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