Johnson's Valentine's Day Olive Branch to Brexit Foes: Be Quiet

(Bloomberg) -- Boris Johnson’s big Brexit speech, billed as a overture to alienated supporters of European Union membership, will instead accuse them of trying to “frustrate the will of the people.”

Entitled “A United Kingdom,” the Wednesday morning address was described by the foreign secretary’s staff as an attempt to bring the nation together.

Johnson's Valentine's Day Olive Branch to Brexit Foes: Be Quiet

But the limited extracts released by Johnson’s office suggest he will open by saying that those who “are becoming ever more determined to stop Brexit” must abandon their efforts, because if they succeeded, it would be “a disastrous mistake that would lead to permanent and ineradicable feelings of betrayal” among the majority who voted to leave in 2016.

More than a year and a half after the referendum, Prime Minister Theresa May’s government is split on how to do it, and whether it is even a good idea. Lawmakers in her Conservative Party who support leaving have attacked officials for analysis showing the economic fallout from Brexit.

Johnson will acknowledge that “many” of those who disagree with him “are actuated by entirely noble sentiments, a real sense of solidarity with our European neighbors and a desire for the U.K. to succeed,” but he will focus his speech on explaining to them why their fears are “unfounded.”

In further speech extracts published by The Sun newspaper, Johnson addressed “those who worry about coming out of the customs union or the single market,” telling them that “the economic benefits of membership are nothing like as conspicuous or irrefutable as is sometimes claimed.”

May herself, having played a minor role in the campaign against Brexit, has been a staunch public advocate for “getting on with it,” making it the center of her 2017 election campaign. It was a tactic that backfired in parts of the country that oppose Brexit.

Johnson, the figurehead of the campaign to leave the EU, is among those pushing for a harder Brexit, which moves the U.K. away from EU rules, allowing it to remove regulations and sign trade deals with non-EU countries.

He argues that these moves will outweigh the damage done to trade with the EU by Brexit. Johnson’s speech is sure to draw attention given his track record for snatching the spotlight away from May and dictating the direction of travel.

In three days time May is due to deliver her own big speech, which will touch on Brexit and security. Her last major address was back in September in Florence, when she set out her Brexit blueprint.

But just six days before, her top diplomat had penned a 4,000-word article for the Telegraph that laid out his own alternative path for a “glorious” future outside the EU.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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