‘ELITE CONSPIRACY’ Johnson warning

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FORMER foreign secretary Boris Johnson said yesterday that changing the date of leaving the EU from 29 March would be ‘shameful’, and the public would view it as ‘an elite conspiracy to thwart Brexit’.

In a speech at JCB Headquarters in Rocester, Staffordshire, he instead urged the government to use Brexit to ‘unite the country’. Johnson said Theresa May’s deal is ‘deceased’ and urged her to return to Brussels, as rescinding Article 50 is ‘pathetic’.

He said: ‘The deal was thrown out by a record 230 votes.

‘That was for the very good reason that it does not correspond to the result of the 2016 referendum. ‘When 118 Tory MPs voted against this now deceased Withdrawal Agreement it was because Leavers and Remainers were united in the dismay of a deal which keeps us locked in the customs union, unable to do free trade deals, cut tariffs on own, make food cheaper, help African farmers and turn us into non-voting members of the single market.’

He said May’s main concern should be to have the backstop on the island of Ireland removed and use the transition period to come up with a new trade deal. He added: ‘She can go back to Brussels, and she should go back to Brussels and say that the British House of Commons doesn’t accept the democratic consequences of the arrangement you have imposed in the form of the backstop.’ Johnson added: ‘To put a tiger in the tank we should withhold at least half of the £39bn until the deal is concluded.’

Meanwhile, discussions between PM May and opposition parties are ongoing after her Brexit plan was overwhelmingly defeated in a vote earlier this week. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who wants the UK to be in a permanent customs union with the EU, has refused to take part in the talks until the prime minister rules out the prospect of leaving the EU without a deal, and had instructed Labour MPs to do the same. May has responded that ruling out no deal is ‘impossible as it was not within the government’s power’.

The UK is due to leave the EU on 29 March, under the Article 50 process and the UK’s EU Withdrawal Act, with or without a deal – unless the UK chooses to revoke Article 50 and continues as a member of the EU.

She also ruled out a snap election, as she did in 2017 – just days before calling one.

Corbyn has dismissed the PM’s cross-party talks as a ‘stunt’ and urged her to ‘ditch the red lines and get serious about proposals for the future’.

Seeking to keep up the pressure on the Labour leader, the PM wrote to him reiterating that she was ‘disappointed’ at his refusal to meet. She said her door remains open for talks, but told Corbyn on his ‘no-deal’ demand: ‘That is an impossible condition because it is not within the government’s power to rule out no deal.’ May said this could be done only by getting a deal through parliament or by overturning the 2016 referendum result, something she was not prepared to do.