Brexit: Boris Johnson could resign if Theresa May opts for 'soft Brexit'

Foreign secretary Boris Johnson could resign, if Theresa May signals that she will pursue a “Swiss-style” Brexit, despite publicly denying that he will walk away from the cabinet

20 September 2017, 9:32am
Foreign minister Boris Johnson (Photo: the Telegraph)
Foreign minister Boris Johnson (Photo: the Telegraph)
“We are a nest of singing birds”, Johnson told reporters in New York, denying that the cabinet was split over the Brexit policy.

It is understood, however, that Johnson will consider resignation if Theresa May leans towards a “soft Brexit”, advocated by chancellor, Philip Hammond, when she makes a key speech in Florence on Friday.

It was reported by the Telegraph, that Johnson could even resign before the weekend if May signalled that she will sign the UK up for paying access to the single market permanently, in an arrangement similar to remaining in the European Economic Area (EEA).

This option is known by critics as the “EEA-lite”, similar to the arrangements adopted by Switzerland, which would be a way of preserving the benefits of the single market.

Johnson was concerned that the prime minister was preparing to send a public signal that she would like to see a close long-term relationship with the European Union, similar to Switzerland and Norway, which would result in more leeway over freedom of movement.

He, amongst others, fear that this would limit the UK’s ability to make deals with other countries and states, as well as require the UK to mirror EU regulations.

Johnson was piqued that a meeting of other senior ministers involved in Brexit was held last week when he was inspecting hurricane damage in the Caribbean.

May is also in New York, attending the UN general assembly. Asked whether she still backed the foreign secretary, she told Sky: “Boris Johnson has been here at the United Nations doing important work yesterday in a meeting on Burma.

“I will be seeing Boris at various stages during our time here, but of course we have got very busy programmes.”

May will convene a special meeting of her cabinet on Thursday, to consult colleagues about her speech. A Number 10 source said:

“The PM has said consistently that she values the contribution of people from across the cabinet, and clearly this is a significant moment in terms of our progress, and in terms of our relationship with Europe.”

May’s spokesman also underlined the fact that May planned on using the speech to discuss transitional arrangements and also Britain’s ongoing partnership with the rest of the EU.

“She will talk about the future relationship going forward, as well as the progress on the talks so far,” he said.

When asked if she was confident of getting consensus on her Brexit strategy at Thursday’s meeting, May said: “Yes, the cabinet is absolutely clear about the destination we are aiming for in relation to our European negotiations.

“We want to make sure we get the best possible deal for the United Kingdom as we leave the European Union. What we want to do is to ensure not just a good deal on trade, but also on our future security and relationship on law enforcement and criminal justice.”

Asked what she wanted Johnson to do, in the light of reports he may resign, May said: “What I want the government to do is what the government is doing, Boris and others, all very clear about the destination we have as a country and that is getting that deep and special relationship with the EU when we leave, but a partnership that still leaves us as the UK free to make trade deals around the world. and free to take control of our laws, our borders and our money.”

Speculation about Johnson’s future has been rife, as some senior conservatives believe he should have been sacked for departing from collective responsibility. Former chancellor, Ken Clarke, said he would have undoubtedly been dismissed, if May were not in such a weak position.

“Sounding off personally in this way is totally unhelpful and he shouldn’t exploit the fact that [Theresa May] hasn’t got a majority in parliament,” Clarke said. “And he knows perfectly well that, normally, a foreign secretary would be sacked instantly for doing that.”