Boris Johnson faces heavy criticism ahead of his major Brexit speech as one Commons committee chair asks why he is being taken seriously following the infamous pre-referendum assertion that Britain sends £350m a week to the EU.
The comments come as the Foreign Secretary prepares to deliver a speech on what his allies claim is a liberal vision for Brexit and carries the warning that reversing the referendum result of 2016 will be a “disastrous mistake”.
Yvette Cooper, the senior Labour MP and chair of the Home Affairs Committee in Westminster, said: “The problem with that is, from the point of view of a committee chair, we’ve got this speech being made which doesn’t seem to set out any detail.
“The Government cannot keep kicking the can down the road, we’ve got to actually have some practical details on it.”
Referring to his pre-referendum claim – one that has been discredited by the chair of UK Statistics Authority – Ms Cooper told the BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme: “And to be honest given that everything he said about the bus I don’t know really see why we’re taking him seriously.”
In an attempt to reach out to pro-Europeans in Britain, Mr Johnson, a prominent Leave campaigner, will also add in his speech: “It is not good enough to say to Remainers – you lost, get over it; because we must accept that many are actuated by entirely noble sentiments.”
Extracts of Mr Johnson’s speech were also met with a lukewarm response from Thorbjörn Sohlström, the Swedish Ambassador to the UK, who warned that the Government’s Brexit red lines were “not so easy to marry with friction-free trade”.
He continued: “It’s clear that if Britain will indeed leave both the customs union and the single market and perhaps take some distance from EU rules and regulations, there will be, I think, a degree of friction in the trade.
“There are strong incentives on each side to find a good arrangement and we will try to be as constructive as possible to achieve that sort of outcome, but I don’t think it will be that easy.”
Brexit talks: Top issues facing UK on leaving EU
The key issue of negotiations remains Britains access – or withdrawal from the existing EU customs union.
Since the referendum there has been hot debate over what exactly Brexit ‘means’ – would this mean a full, complete removal from he customs union, ‘ a hard Brexit’ or adopting the rules and travel guidelines of the EU (similar to Turkey), a ‘soft Brexit’.
Number 10 has so far insisted that ‘Brexit means Brexit’ and the UK will be leaving the customs union, but after revelations of the potential economic impacts on Britain become clear, the Government may be inclined the change their position.
Northern Ireland-Irish border
Though progress was made last year – there has still been so solid agreement on the issue of whether there will be a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
To ensure border-less travel on the island, the countries must be in “regulatory alignment” – and therefore adhere to the same rules as the customs union.
In December, the Conservative party’s coalition partners, the DUP, refused a draft agreement that would place the UK/EU border in the Irish sea, due to potential of undermining the union.
May has promised that would not be the case and a ‘specific solution’ would need to be found.
Despite protest from a small number of Conservative MP’s , the Government and the EU are largely in agreement that a transitional period will need to take place in order to prepare for Brexit.
The terms however, have reached a grey area. Though May hss agreed that the UK will continue to contribute to the EU budget until 2021, the PM wants to be able to select which laws made during this time the UK will have to adhere to. Chief negotiator Michel Barnier (seen here with EU Minister David Davis) has said the UK must adopt all of the laws passed during the transition, without any input from British ministers or MEPs.
Rights of EU citizens living the UK
The Prime Minister has promised EU citizens already living in the UK the right to live and work in the UK after Brexit – but the rights of those who arrive after ‘Brexit day’ remains unclear.
May insists that those who arrive during the transition period should not be allowed to stay, whereas the EU believe the cut-off point should be later.
Future trade agreement (with the EU)
Despite this being a key issue in negotiations, the Government has yet to lay out exactly what it wants from a trade deal with the EU.
Infighting within the Cabinet has prevented a solid position, with some MP’s happy to go with a ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’ concept and others rallying behind single market access. The EU has already confirmed that access to the single market would be impossible without the UK remaining within the customs union.
Future trade agreements (internationally)
The Government has already begun attempting to woo foreign leaders into prospective trade agreements, with various high-profile state visits to China, India and the Canada for May, and the now infamous invitation to US President Donald Trump to visit London.
However the UK cannot make trade agreements with another country while it is still a member of the EU, and the potential loss of trade with the worlds major powers is a source of anxiety for the PM. The EU has said the UK cannot secure trade deals during the transitional perio
Banks in the UK will be hit hard regardless of the Brexit outcome. The EU has refused to give British banks passporting rights to trade within the EU, dashing the hopes of a special ‘city deal’.
However according to new reports Germany has suggested allowing trade on the condition that the UK continues paying into the EU budget – even after the transition period.
And Green leader Caroline Lucas, a support of the Best for Britain organisation, added: “Boris is deluded if he thinks, he of all people can ‘reach out to people who voted remain’. He lied to the public to further his own political goals – and people up and down the country are now picking up the pieces.
“It may be Valentine’s Day tomorrow – but the British people have well and truly fallen out of love with Boris Johnson, and have had enough of his self-aggrandising nonsense.”
The Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan, a founding member of Vote Leave, however, said Mr Johnson was aiming his speech at those who felt “alienated and angry” about the referendum result.
Mr Hannan said: “He knows that a number of people feel kind of alienated and angry about the result and that’s not something that any Leaver should feel good about.
“We want to try and carry as many people with us, it was a narrow outcome, it was a 48/52 vote that means we should try and find a consensus that both sides can at least live with.”
He added: “He was one of the, arguably the chief figure in Vote Leave. I’d have thought if there is a task of reconciliation he’s the person to undertake it.”
- More about:
- Boris Johnson
- Yvette Cooper
- Caroline Lucas