Tuesday

15th Jun 2021

Johnson challenges May on hard Brexit

The UK's foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, has launched a thinly veiled leadership challenge against prime minister Theresa May, while she prepares to set out her Brexit strategy this Friday (22 September) in the Italian city of Florence.

While it seems that the majority of May's cabinet has resigned to the fact that there needs to be a transition period between the Brexit date (March 2019) and a new deal on the future UK-EU relationship, and that a hard Brexit is difficult to carry out, Johnson has insisted on keeping a hard line.

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Johnson wrote a 4,300-word opinion article in The Daily Telegraph newspaper last Saturday (16 September), where he rejected the notion that Britain should pay a substantial exit bill or continue EU payments after Brexit.

Arguing that the the UK should not pay for access to the single market, he seemed to oppose any possible transition period, as has been put forward by finance minister Philip Hammond.

May is expected to try to kick start Brexit negotiations in a speech on Friday by offering to pay the UK's existing commitments to the EU, and by suggesting a transitional period.

Negotiations have been dragging on between the EU and the UK, with the next round of talks - originally scheduled for this week - being postponed until after May's speech.

The main stumbling block remains the UK's unwillingness to commit to any payments to the EU for obligations it has undertaken while still a member of the bloc.

Johnson, however, did suggest to curtail foreigners buying homes in London, borrowing more to upgrade the UK's infrastructure, and a tax reform.

Home secretary Amber Rudd told the BBC that while Johnson can express his enthusiasm for Brexit, he should remember he was not "driving the car" in Brexit negotiations.

Johnson also revived the Leave campaign's false pledge to spend £350 million (€398 million) a week extra on the NHS, the UK's health service, with the money that the UK could save from not paying into the EU budget.

That idea had been earlier rejected by May, and this time corrected by the head of the UK's statistics authority.

Sir David Norgrove said in a letter to Johnson that he was "surprised and disappointed" that the foreign secretary had revived the figure, which was misleading and represented a "clear misuse" of official statistics.

Johnson attempted to hit back, in his own a letter, accusing Norgrove of a "wilful distortion" of his article.

The foreign secretary also suggested in his article that those who support remaining in the EU might not be entirely loyal to the UK.

"So many young people with the 12 stars lipsticked on their faces" were "beginning to have genuinely split allegiances," he wrote.

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