‘Col­leagues con­sid­er­ing their po­si­tion over Brexit’

The Sunday Guardian - - World - REUTERS

For­mer min­is­ter Jo John­son said some col­leagues were “re­flect­ing hard” on whether to quit over Theresa May’s Brexit plan af­ter his dra­matic res­ig­na­tion threw the British prime min­is­ter’s deal into jeop­ardy.

The ju­nior trans­port min­is­ter, who is the younger brother of for­mer For­eign Sec­re­tary Boris John­son, is­sued a sear­ing cri­tique of May’s Brexit deal on Fri­day when he un­ex­pect­edly quit and called for the coun­try to pull back from the brink.

On Satur­day, he also at­tacked the “fan­tasy set of promises” made dur­ing the ref­er­en­dum by Brexit cam­paign­ers such as his brother and said the vast gulf with re­al­ity meant it would be a “demo­cratic travesty” if the pub­lic did not have an­other say.

“This is one of the most mo­men­tous ques­tions we will ever face in our po­lit­i­cal ca­reers,” he told BBC Ra­dio.

“I know many are re­flect­ing hard about the deal that’s loom­ing and how they will re­spond to it. It’s up to (law­mak­ers) to take a stand, I’ve done so, if oth­ers feel that it’s right for them to do so then good on them.”

Jo John­son’s in­ter­ven­tion was all the more pow­er­ful be­cause he was seen as a loyal law­maker who voted to re­main in the bloc. His de­par­ture risks gal­vanis­ing other pro-EU min­is­ters to vote against the deal, along­side Brex­i­teers who have al­ready vowed to re­ject it.

Boris John­son, the lead­ing Brexit cam­paigner, quit the gov­ern­ment in July. The two broth­ers said that although they stood on dif­fer­ing sides of the Brexit di­vide, they were united in dis­may at the coun­try’s cur­rent predica­ment.

The crit­i­cism un­der­scores the bat­tle that lies ahead as May tries to strike a deal that will be ac­cept­able to the dif­fer­ent fac­tions in her deeply di­vided party and the small North­ern Ir­ish Demo­cratic Union­ist Party (DUP) she re­lies on to gov­ern.

Talks with EU ne­go­tia­tors are due to re­sume on Sun­day and May is ex­pected to hold a cab­i­net meet­ing later this month in the hope of se­cur­ing her min­is­ters’ sup­port.

May has pri­ori­tised main­tain­ing the free trade of goods with Eu­rope, but her many crit­ics say that will leave Bri­tain sub­ject to de­ci­sions made in Brus­sels with­out any in­put from Lon­don.

Less than five months be­fore Bri­tain is due to leave the EU on March 29, ne­go­ti­a­tions are still stuck over a backup plan for the land bor­der be­tween British-ruled North­ern Ire­land and EU mem­ber Ire­land, should they fail to clinch a long-term deal.

The DUP’s leader Ar­lene Fos­ter said on Satur­day her 10 law­mak­ers could not vote for May’s deal be­cause it would “hand­cuff the UK to the EU, with the EU hold­ing the keys”.

British trade min­is­ter Liam Fox said Bri­tain may not agree a deal if a so­lu­tion can­not be found.

“It’s close but ev­ery­thing is hang­ing by a thread be­cause of the po­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion in the UK,” one diplo­mat fa­mil­iar with an EU briefing of na­tional en­voys on Fri­day told Reuters. Two other diplo­mats said sev­eral is­sues re­mained un­re­solved.

With so much volatil­ity, the Com­mis­sion is ex­pected to step up its plan­ning for a no-deal Brexit at its weekly meet­ing on Tues­day, in­clud­ing up­dat­ing visa reg­u­la­tions to ex­empt Bri­tons from need­ing visas to visit the EU.

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