U.K. foreign secretary Boris Johnson (Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg)

Juncker Lashes Out at Boris Johnson's Speech: Brexit Update

(Bloomberg) -- Boris Johnson kicked off Theresa May’s “Road Map to Brexit” with an appeal to supporters of European Union membership to embrace the U.K.’s future outside the bloc. But his speech was far more than that as well.

Apart from the to-be-expected jokes, he weighed in seriously about where he stands on divergence from EU regulations. He made the case that the U.K. must be able to choose which rules to keep. He also stood by May in a qualified fashion, and on the second referendum? “Let’s not go there,” he said.

The foreign secretary, a divisive figure who toured the country in a red bus during the 2016 referendum calling for payments to the EU to be redirected to the National Health Service, spoke in London. Below are highlights from his speech and question-and-answer session. Time stamps are local.

Juncker Not a Fan of Speech or of Boris (12:00 p.m.)

Juncker had some strong words when asked about Boris’s comments.

“Some in the British political society are against the truth, pretending that I’m a stupid, stubborn federalist, that I’m in favor of the European superstate,” Juncker told reporters in Brussels on Wednesday. “I’m strictly against a European superstate.”

“We aren’t the United States of America, we are the European Union, which is a rich body because we have these 27, 28 nations,” Juncker said. “The EU can’t be built against European nations, so this is total nonsense.”

Johnson Stands By Prime Minister May (12:05 p.m.)

“We’re all very lucky to serve,” Johnson says when asked if he guarantees he won’t resign from Cabinet this year. Is Theresa May the cure for the “dreadful disease” of “Brexcosis,” a reporter asks? “Yes,” says Johnson. “The cure for Brexcosis is exactly the one you described.”

Johnson: Can’t Commit to EU Regulations Forever (11:53 a.m.)

“When it comes to EU standards for washing machines or vacuum cleaners or hairdryers or whatever, it may very well make sense for us to be in alignment,” Johnson says. “But I don’t think that we should necessarily commit forever and a day to remaining in congruence.”

Johnson restates his argument that the U.K. must be able to choose. Negotiations “are going well, by the way,” he says.

Johnson Agrees to EU Rules During Transition (11:45 a.m.)

“Things will remain as they are” during the post-Brexit implementation period, he says.

That’s a key point because it goes to the heart of the recent rift between ministers in Theresa May’s government as well as the broader debate on EU membership.

Johnson: ‘Let’s Not Go There’ on Second Referendum (11:42 a.m.)

“If there were to be a second vote I really think it would be another year of turmoil and wrangling and feuding… So let’s not go there,” Johnson says.

That’s because more people have been pushing the argument for a vote on the deal that emerges from talks with the EU as economic forecasts paint a dismal picture of post-Brexit life.

Johnson Makes Case for Leaving Customs Union (11:39 a.m.)

“Those who worry about coming out of the customs union or the single market, please bear in mind that the economic benefits of membership are nothing like as conspicuous or irrefutable as is sometimes claimed,” Johnson says. Benefits include the ability to cut VAT on domestic fuel, he says.

Johnson Calls for Debate on Low-Skill Immigration (11:34 a.m.)

Immigration policy should focus on students and “talented people,” Johnson says. “We need also to ask ourselves some hard questions about the impact of 20 years of uncontrolled immigration by low-skilled, low-wage workers -- and what many see as the consequent suppression of wages and failure to invest properly in the skills of indigenous young people.”

U.K. Must Grasp Opportunities From Leaving EU (11:30 a.m.)

“We would be mad to go through this process of extrication from the EU and not to take advantage of the economic freedoms it will bring,” Johnson says. That includes stopping payments of “huge sums” to the EU budget and controlling immigration, he says.

EU Laws Have Political, Not Economic Goals (11:27 a.m.)

British politicians have always found “difficult” the idea of EU political integration, Johnson says. Even his most die-hard Remainer friends seem flummoxed by EU regulations. A message here for the U.K.’s policy toward a transition period post-Brexit?

“If we are going to accept laws, then we need to know who is making them, and with what motives, and we need to be able to interrogate them in our own language, and we need to know how they came to be in authority over us, and how we can remove them,” Johnson says.

Johnson Says Brexit Is About a Global Britain (11:25 a.m.)

“It’s not about shutting ourselves off, it’s about going global,” Johnson says. “Brexit is about reengaging this country to its global identity.”

‘Stag Parties in Ancient Cities’ (11:21 a.m.)

No reason why Brits can’t retire to Spain, continue academic exchanges, Johnson says. Stag parties will continue, “we all want to make Britain less insular,” Johnson says. But these come across more as arguments for staying...

Here Comes Case for a Free-Trade Brexit (11:15 a.m.)

“We can’t take the argument for granted, we must make the case ourselves,” says Johnson. “It’s not good enough for us to say now to Remainers: you lost, get over it.”

“We will continue to be Europeans both practically and psychologically.”

Johnson Recognizes ‘Grief of Remainers’ (11:11 a.m.)

Johnson starts out with some warm words for Remainers, but he quickly segues into a warning not to thwart the process of Brexit. “Brexit can be grounds for much more hope than fear,” he says.

A Packed House: Lawmakers and Diplomats (10:52 a.m.)

At a venue a stone’s throw from Parliament there was standing-room only for the lawmakers, reporters and diplomats from around the world. Attendees are a mixture of European officials, someone from the U.S. embassy and the Australian High Commission.

No Cabinet members attending. The street outside is lined with photographers.

Are Any Other Cabinet Members Talking Too? (10:30 a.m.)

May is hoping to unite her Conservative Party with a series of ministers’ speeches in the coming days outlining her vision for Britain’s post-Brexit future. Johnson is first up, with the premier herself following in Munich on Saturday on the U.K’s security relationship with the EU. Brexit Secretary David Davis, Trade Secretary Liam Fox and Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington are also scheduled to deliver speeches on different aspects of Brexit.

Johnson’s tone is therefore crucial. Entitled “A United Kingdom,” his staff described the speech as an attempt to bring the nation together and as an overture to the country’s so-called Remainers. Early signs are that accusing them of trying to “frustrate the will of the people” won’t get the job done.

Earlier:

Johnson’s Valentine’s Day Olive Branch to Brexit Foes: Be Quiet
U.K. Border Force Under Strain as Brexit Looms, Lawmakers Say
Irish PM: Very Hard to Achieve Sweeping New Trade Deal With U.K.
May Reboots Road to Brexit With Speeches to End Tory Civil War

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