FOREIGN Secretary Boris Johnson has declared civil war in the Tory Party and savaged Chancellor Hammond and the Treasury as being the main enemy. He called it ‘basically the heart of Remain’ and called for ‘guts’ in Brexit talks in comments made at a private dinner.
Speaking to 20 Tory donors in a private room after addressing Conservative Way Forward, a Thatcherite campaign group, he castigated the Treasury, saying: ‘They don’t want any disruption of the economy. So they’re sacrificing all the medium and long-term gains out of fear of short-term disruption.’ BuzzFeed News obtained an audio recording of the closed-door gathering at the Institute of Directors in London.
Johnson gave a remarkably candid rundown of the arguments that have bitterly divided May’s cabinet. He said: ‘There’s a high chance of Britain ending up with an arrangement that violates many of the Brexiteers’ red lines,’ keeping it ‘locked in orbit around the EU, in the customs union, and to a large extent still in the single market … So not really having full freedom on our trade policy, our tariff schedules, and not having freedom with our regulatory framework either. It would mean the UK had left the EU without taking back control over its own affairs.
Clarifying his own red lines, Johnson said he would be willing to accept staying close to the EU beyond March 2019, when the UK formally leaves the EU, but will not budge when it comes to the final terms of the future relationship. He was recorded as saying: ‘I will be prepared to compromise over time, but I will not compromise over the destination.’
Slamming Treasury Remainers, Johnson said: ‘Do you see what I’m saying? The fear of short-term disruption has become so huge in people’s minds that they’ve turned into a quivering wreck. They’re terrified of this nonsense. It’s mumbo jumbo.’ He gave a scathing response to warnings of chaos because of delays at Britain’s borders. He called the ‘prophecies of doom’ about disruption of customs ‘pure millennium bug stuff. All the planes crashing from the sky. It’s absolute nonsense.’
Johnson continued: ‘It’s the 21st century. You know, when I was mayor of London … I could tell where you all were just when you swiped your Oyster card over a tube terminal, a tube gizmo. The idea that we can’t track movement of goods, it’s just nonsense.’ He warned: ‘Unless you make the change, unless you have the guts to go for the independent policy, you’re never going to get the economic benefits of Brexit. You’ll never get the political benefits of Brexit.’
He said that PM May was ‘going to go into a phase where we are much more combative with Brussels’. He added: ‘You’ve got to face the fact there may now be a meltdown. OK? I don’t want anybody to panic during the meltdown. No panic. Pro bono publico, no bloody panic. It’s going to be all right in the end.’
Asked about Donald Trump, he said he was ‘increasingly admiring’ of the US President. Johnson said: ‘I have become more and more convinced that there is method in his madness.’
‘Imagine Trump doing Brexit,’ he added. ‘He’d go in bloody hard … There’d be all sorts of breakdowns, all sorts of chaos. Everyone would think he’d gone mad. ‘But actually you might get somewhere. It’s a very, very good thought.’
Meanwhile, PM May has refused to give a guarantee that the government’s ‘backstop’ plan on customs after Brexit will not extend beyond December 2021. Speaking to reporters on her flight to the G7 summit in Canada, she twice refused to give a ‘cast-iron guarantee that the end date would not slip.’