Boris Johnson Attacks May’s ‘Dithering’ Over Brexit

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Boris Johnson, the former foreign secretary, attacked Prime Minister Theresa May’s “dithering” over Brexit negotiation, dismissing her plan as “enforced vassalage” as the U.K. remains under some European Union rules.

Johnson, a thorn in May’s side when he was in office, used a parliamentary convention to explain his decision to resign from government ten days after quitting. While praising May’s “courage and resilience,” he tore apart her Brexit strategy while not quite planting in the knife.

“We burned through negotiating capital,” Johnson said. “We agreed to hand over a 40 billion pound exit fee, with no discussion of our future economic relationship. We accepted the jurisdiction of the European Court over key aspects of the withdrawal agreement. And, worst of all, we allowed the question of the Northern Irish border, which had hitherto been assumed on all sides to be readily soluble, to become so politically charged as to dominate the debate.”

Face of Brexit

The former London mayor was the face of the Brexit campaign in 2016. On Wednesday -- given the chance to try and deal May a mortal blow, he said “it is not too late to save Brexit.”

“We have time in these negotiations,” Johnson told lawmakers. “We have changed tack once and we can change again. The problem is not that we failed to make the case for a Free Trade Agreement of the kind spelt out at Lancaster House.

After 18 months of “stealthy retreat” we’ve come from the “bright certainties” of May’s Lancaster House speech to the “miserable permanent limbo” of the Chequers agreement, he said.

The long-swirling rumors around Johnson’s ambitions to lead the party were not quashed when a photo shoot was staged for the signing of his resignation letter. Donald Trump on his visit to the U.K. last week said Johnson would make “a great prime minister.”

Job Application?

Labour lawmaker Jack Dromey tweeted: ”Boris only bats for Boris, not for Britain. Today’s speech was a job application for PM from a man whose vanity knows no bounds.”

Johnson’s actions were closely watched, because of historic precedents. In 1990, for example, Margaret Thatcher’s deputy prime minister Geoffrey Howe’s barbed resignation speech over the U.K.’s relationship with Europe prompted another member of her Cabinet to launch a leadership bid. Johnson took up exactly the same position in the House of Commons as Howe.

Howe’s speech prompted Thatcher’s Cabinet colleague Michael Heseltine to run against her and ultimately led to her downfall. While May has had a torrid week, with both her pro-Brexit and pro-remain lawmakers rebelling against her, she appears to have survived. Later on Wednesday she addressed the whole of her parliamentary Tory party.

“Boris is anxious not to be the Heseltine but if someone else were to push her...” said Johnson biographer Andrew Gimson. “He was offering a different style of leadership. A lot of Tories would like to believe that is still possible but they are not fully convinced Johnson is the man to provide the leadership.”

Johnson, who spent two years as foreign secretary under May, was noted for his gaffes abroad. His former Cabinet colleague David Davis quit hours before Johnson last week. Since then, he has given multiple media interviews in which the former Brexit secretary criticized her approach to negotiations but backed her leadership. It was the first time since 1982 that two British cabinet ministers had resigned within 24 hours other than in a reshuffle.

Johnson, meanwhile, had not made any public statement on May’s leadership since he took the decision to go. In a column in Monday’s Daily Telegraph he limited himself to appealing for a more “positive” view of the U.K.’s prospects after Brexit.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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