UK must not stay locked to EU rules, says Johnson
Foreign secretary hopes Britain will take advantage of new ‘freedoms’
Boris Johnson has warned it would be “mad” to end up with a Brexit settlement that does not allow the UK to enjoy the “economic freedoms” of leaving the European Union.
Signalling the need to diverge from EU rules after leaving the bloc, Mr Johnson insisted that the UK should not remain locked into alignment with Brussels.
In the latest salvo in a Cabinet battle over how closely the UK should remain tied to the EU after leaving, Mr Johnson said Britain should not be “lashed to the minute prescriptions” of a bloc comprising just 6% of the world’s population.
Mr Johnson’s comments at a speech in London are in stark contrast to Chancellor Philip Hammond’s hope that the UK would only diverge “very modestly” from the EU.
With the Cabinet set to make a final decision on its approach, Mr Johnson refused to guarantee he would not quit this year if there was a plan for close alignment.
“We are all very lucky to serve and I’m certainly one of those,” he said.
The UK has committed to leave the single market and customs union, but the EU could impose conditions to closely follow rules as part of the comprehensive deal sought by Theresa May.
Setting out his approach, Mr Johnson said: “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.”
By leaving the EU “we will be able, if we so choose, to fish our own fish, to ban the traffic in live animals and payments to some of the richest landowners in Britain”.
There would be freedom to cut VAT on fuel, “simplify planning and speed up public procurement”.
In a sign that there could be changes to environmental protections, Mr Johnson said “we might decide that it was indeed absolutely necessary for every environmental impact assessment to monitor two life cycles of the snail and build special swimming pools for newts” but “it would at least be our decision”.
Mr Johnson said the issue was about “who decides” and “it may very well make sense” to remain in alignment with EU standards on some products – but that commitment should not be written in to the Brexit deal.
“I don’t think we should necessarily commit, as a matter of treaty, that forever and a day we are going to remain locked into permanent congruence with the EU,” he said.
In an effort to address concerns about the potential hit to trade, Mr Johnson said: “To 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.”
Outside the EU the UK will be able to do “serious free trade deals” with growing economies around the world.
Mr Johnson rejected arguments for a second referendum and warned that it would be a “disastrous mistake” to seek to thwart Brexit.
In a message to Remain supporters, the Brexit-backing minister said leaving the EU could be “grounds for much more hope than fear”.
Boris Johnson delivers a speech at the Policy Exchange, London, as part of the UK Government’s “road map” on Brexit.