LONDON — Boris Johnson has denied that he was about to resign as foreign secretary after Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable suggested on Sunday that he was planning to quit as the Cabinet continues to argue over Brexit.
Cable said May’s government was in “civil war” over plans to allow a three year transition period in which the free movement of people would continue, and “the rumours of Boris Johnson being about to resign fuel the uncertainty.”
Responding to Cable’s comments, a spokesman for Johnson said: “Vince Cable is making his stuff up and maybe he should take more time to think up some policies rather than wasting his time on peddling lies.
“Boris and Philip Hammond are working closely to take the UK out of the EU and are not going to be diverted from that important task.”
Foreign Secretary Johnson and International Trade secretary Liam Fox are reportedly refusing to support Chancellor Hammond’s plans for EU migration immediately after Brexit. Hammond told BBC Radio 4 last week that a transition deal will “look similar” to membership of the EU, including how Britain deals with EU migrants. His comments were echoed by Home Secretary Amber Rudd who in a letter to the migrant committee said a new immigration system will not be ready to put in place as soon as Britain leaves the European Union, meaning there’ll be no major changes.
Divisions in the cabinet were made public on Sunday when Fox said there was no cabinet-wide agreement on a transition period, and that “control of our own borders” was one of the main factors behind the UK voting to leave the EU, and maintaining free movement would “not keep faith” with the referendum result. Immigration Minister Brandon Lewis said on Thursday that free movement of people would definitely come to an end in March 2019.
Prime Minister Theresa May is reportedly set to back Rudd and Hammond’s calls for a transition period, with May’s spokesman telling The Times there was “collective agreement on the need for a smooth Brexit,” in the cabinet.
Pro-Brexit cabinet ministers are reportedly annoyed that their colleagues have made statements on the UK’s future relationship with the EU while they are abroad, as Johnson has been in Australia and Fox in the USA.
Cable told the Guardian in reply to Johnson’s denial: “If the foreign secretary is working so closely with the chancellor, can he confirm that he supports the chancellor’s call for a three-year transitional deal with continued free movement of labour? So far he has been uncharacteristically silent on the subject.
“It is a simple question: does he support the position of Philip Hammond or Liam Fox? Because he can’t support both. And if Philip Hammond secures a three-year transitional deal, can Boris Johnson confirm he will stay in the government and support the policy? It is certainly bold of Boris Johnson to accuse others of lying. How is he getting along with finding that £350m a week extra he promised the NHS?”
Johnson has not commented publicly on Hammond’s plans for a three-year transition.