Jo John­son quits UK govern­ment, urges ref­er­en­dum to avoid Brexit chaos

Stabroek News - - WORLD NEWS -

LON­DON, (Reuters) - Jo John­son, the younger brother of Boris, re­signed from Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May’s govern­ment yes­ter­day, call­ing in a with­er­ing cri­tique for an­other ref­er­en­dum to avoid her Brexit plans un­leash­ing Bri­tain’s great­est cri­sis since World War Two.

Quit­ting as a ju­nior trans­port min­is­ter, John­son called May’s Brexit plans delu­sional and said he could not vote for the deal she is ex­pected to un­veil in par­lia­ment within weeks.

“Bri­tain stands on the brink of the great­est cri­sis since the Sec­ond World War,” said John­son, a for­mer Fi­nan­cial Times jour­nal­ist who voted to stay in the EU in the 2016 ref­er­en­dum.

John­son, 46, called it the worst fail­ure of state­craft since the 1956 Suez canal cri­sis, in which Bri­tain was hu­mil­i­at­ingly forced by the United States to with­draw its troops from Egypt.

“To present the na­tion with a choice be­tween two deeply unattrac­tive out­comes, vas­salage and chaos, is a fail­ure of Bri­tish state­craft on a scale un­seen since the Suez cri­sis,” he said.

“Given that the re­al­ity of Brexit has turned out to be so far from what was once promised, the demo­cratic thing to do is to give the pub­lic the fi­nal say,” he added.

John­son’s crit­i­cism un­der­scored the tra­vails that May faces in get­ting any Brexit di­vorce deal, which Lon­don and Brus­sels say is 95 per­cent done, ap­proved by her own frac­tious party.

The pound sank to a day’s low be­neath $1.30 on the res­ig­na­tion and also fell against the euro. It was un­clear whether oth­ers would fol­low John­son out of govern­ment.

In the June 2016 ref­er­en­dum, 17.4 mil­lion vot­ers, or 51.9 per­cent, backed leav­ing the EU while 16.1 mil­lion, or 48.1 per­cent, backed stay­ing.

John­son wants a three-way ref­er­en­dum giv­ing the peo­ple a choice be­tween re­main­ing in the EU, May’s deal and no deal.

May’s of­fice re­jected his call, say­ing Bri­tain would not hold a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum on its EU mem­ber­ship “un­der any cir­cum­stances”.

John­son is the 14th min­is­ter to have re­signed from govern­ment since November last year and the most se­nior to have called for an­other ref­er­en­dum in his leav­ing state­ment.

His res­ig­na­tion was pub­lished af­ter May spent much of the day in France and Bel­gium, lay­ing wreaths along­side fel­low lead­ers to mark the centenary of the end of World War One.

As ne­go­ti­a­tions with Brus­sels en­ter their fi­nal fraught stage, May’s ap­proach is un­der fire from all sides of the di­vi­sive Brexit de­bate.

Many politi­cians are un­happy with her com­pro­mise plans to main­tain the free trade of goods with the EU, which they say will leave Bri­tain sub­ject to de­ci­sions in Brus­sels with­out any in­put.

In his 1,600-word res­ig­na­tion state­ment, John­son said May’s pro­posed deal would leave Bri­tain in a “far worse” ne­go­ti­at­ing po­si­tion than now, adding he also knew from his work at the Depart­ment of Trans­port how painful a “no deal” Brexit would be.

Boris John­son, a lead­ing supporter of Brexit who quit as for­eign sec­re­tary in July, praised his brother’s de­ci­sion, say­ing they were “united in dis­may” - de­spite their op­pos­ing views on Brexit - over May’s han­dling of the ne­go­ti­a­tions.

May is ex­pected to hold a cabi­net meet­ing later this month in the hope of se­cur­ing min­is­ters’ sup­port for her ne­go­ti­at­ing stance and hopes to strike an exit deal with the EU in the next few weeks.

Com­pound­ing May’s prob­lems on Fri­day, the North­ern Ir­ish party that props up her mi­nor­ity govern­ment cast her Brexit ne­go­ti­a­tion as a be­trayal and said it could not sup­port any deal that di­vided the United King­dom.

The Demo­cratic Union­ist Party in­ter­preted a prom­ise made by May in a let­ter that she would never let a divi­sion of the UK “come into force” as an ad­mis­sion that such a clause would be in­cluded in a fi­nal deal.

As cam­paign­ers step up pressure on the govern­ment call­ing for the pub­lic to be given an­other say on Brexit, the op­po­si­tion Labour Party leader Jeremy Cor­byn dashed cam­paign­ers’ hopes he could back an­other ref­er­en­dum.

Jo John­son

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