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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 18 August 2018

Boris Johnson keeps powder dry – for now

Former UK foreign secretary stops short of challenge to premier after his acrimonious departure over Brexit

Two gone, one left: Mrs May faces a potential backlash over Brexit from David Davis (L) and Boris Johnson. AFP
Two gone, one left: Mrs May faces a potential backlash over Brexit from David Davis (L) and Boris Johnson. AFP

Boris Johnson, the UK’s former foreign secretary, backed away from a direct challenge to UK premier Theresa May on Monday but signalled he was planning to intervene in the increasingly Brexit debate that led to his resignation.

“I will resist – for now – the temptation to bang on about Brexit,” Mr Johnson said in a column for the Brexit-supporting Telegraph newspaper, his first public comments since quitting the cabinet a week ago.

Mr Johnson followed his cabinet colleague David Davis out of the door last week after Mrs May forced through her blueprint for leaving the European Union at a stormy cabinet meeting at her countryside residence, Chequers. He claimed that the Chequers plan conceded too much and reduced the UK to a “colony” of the European Union.

He is seen as a potential leadership challenger and US President Donald Trump championed the credentials of the charismatic if gaffe-prone politician for the top job during his visit to the UK last week. Following a highly-critical resignation letter, Mr Johnson has kept his counsel as pressure mounted on the prime minister after a total of nine people quit their posts.

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In a sign of the turmoil roiling British politics, a former minister from the pro-Remain wing of the party called for a second referendum on the decision to leave the European Union. The government immediately slapped down the suggestion by former education secretary, Justine Greening.

But the scale of opposition to Mrs May’s plan was made clear yesterday as MPs from both sides of the party lined up to criticise her plans with just months remaining before the country is due to leave the EU on March 29, 2019.

Mrs May’s deal sought to marry the concerns of businesses about being locked out of the European Union’s markets following Brexit, and the demands of so-called Brexiteers within her party who sought a cleaner break with the world’s largest trading bloc.

Some lawmakers said, however, that Mrs May had failed to satisfy anyone and her opponents put forward a series of proposals to water down her plan.

John Baron, a lawmaker for the ruling Conservatives, said he would vote with Brexiteers to change her plan having previously “remained loyal to Theresa May, believing her to be honourable in her attempt to respect the referendum result”.

He added: “Having examined the Chequers agreement... I have come to the conclusion that... it is not what people voted for.”

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