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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 17 December 2018

Boris Johnson vents spleen over UK Brexit plan

Former foreign secretary accuses Theresa May of failing to try to secure successful post-Brexit deal

Boris Johnson blames UK government that he was part of until July for Brexit failings. AFP
Boris Johnson blames UK government that he was part of until July for Brexit failings. AFP

The UK’s former foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, accused the prime minister of running a fake campaign to leave the European Union in his first fiery intervention since quitting the government in July.

Mr Johnson accused his former government colleagues of going into battle “with the white flag fluttering over our leading tank” in a newspaper column, triggering the restart of hostilities between rival factions in the ruling party as lawmakers return to Parliament after a summer break.

“The reality is that in this negotiation the EU has so far taken every important trick,” he wrote on Monday. “The UK has agreed to hand over £40 billion [Dh189.7bn] of taxpayers’ money for two thirds of diddly squat.”

Mr Johnson’s intervention comes amid increased feuding within the ruling party on the course it should take to leave the European Union, just seven months before the deadline set by Prime Minister Theresa May.

She wrote her own column on Sunday defending her negotiating strategy laid out in a stormy meeting at the leader’s countryside retreat, Chequers, in July. That agreement led to the resignation of Mr Johnson and the politician leading the Brexit strategy, David Davis.

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Reports at the weekend suggested that Mr Johnson was preparing for a run for the leadership amid a concerted effort by pro-Brexit MPs to scupper Mrs May’s plans. Her proposals include a “common rulebook” on trade some ruling party MPs claim aligns the UK too closely with the European Union and forces it to follow the rules of the bloc even after it leaves.

Mr Johnson took up the theme in his column on Monday in which he suggested the UK would “remain in the EU taxi; but this time locked in the boot, with absolutely no say on the destination. We won’t have taken back control – we will have lost control.”

He saidthe UK had failed to find a solution to keeping open the shared Irish border to free trade and movement because the government never wanted to find one.

“They wanted to use that problem to stop a proper Brexit,” he said. “They wanted essentially to stay in, and to create a Brexit in name only.

“They have been rumbled. People can see Chequers means disaster,” he said and called for a broad free trade deal – an option already rejected by Brussels. “The scandal is not that we have failed, but that we have not even tried.”

The Chequers agreement could be scuppered even without her rebellious lawmakers, with the EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier saying he was strongly opposed to key parts of Mrs May's proposals.

She is also facing pressure from pro-EU lawmakers and a grass-roots campaign that is demanding a second referendum, a move ruled out by her government.

Government infighting and disagreements with Brussels have increased the prospect that no deal will be reached before the deadline of March 29 next year.

That would mean a hard break between the two sides that most economists and trade experts say would deliver a major financial shock to both the UK and the European Union.