Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson is backing a new campaign group calling for a “hard Brexit”, a move widely seen in the press as an act of defiance against Prime Minister Theresa May.
“Change Britain” launched on Sunday with the support of Johnson and his former Brexit ally and cabinet minister Michael Gove. Margaret Thatcher’s Chancellor Nigel Lawson and David Cameron’s former adviser Steve Hilton are also involved, according to the Daily Mail.
The cross-party group is chaired by Labour MP Gisela Stuart, who chaired the official “Vote Leave” campaign in the run-up to the referendum. Stuart wrote a column for Sunday’s Sun setting out her vision for the new group, writing:
“We need to get on with the task of building a new relationship with the nations of the EU and, in doing so, help shape the next chapter in Europe’s history.
“On all of this there is real work to be done, much of it unglamorous, and a need for the best people to come together to complete the task.
“…This isn’t a time for Leavers and Remainers — now is a time for Doers.”
Johnson also writes in Sunday’s Sun: “Brexit means Brexit and that means delivering on their instructions and restoring UK control over our laws, borders, money and trade,” echoing a video message recorded for the launch of Change Britain.
While the new campaign group may seem uncontroversial — Johnson and Stuart were both major figures in the Vote Leave campaign after all — Johnson’s support of it has been interpreted as a dig at Theresa May in the press.
The language used by “Change Britain” on its website and in Johnson’s speech suggests a preference for a “hard Brexit”, where control over borders takes precident over things like economic concerns.
May supported the Remain campaign in the run-up to the referendum and while she has repeatedly said that “Brexit means Brexit” and she will deliver what the British people voted for, many on the right of the Tory Party fear she will deliver a watered down version of the vision pro-Brexit campaigners put forward.
The Mail on Sunday calls the move “the latest sign of tensions between the Brexiteer Ministers and No 10,” saying: “The aim is to ensure that Mrs May does not try to negotiate a form of ‘Brexit-lite’ involving compromises over immigration controls in exchange for greater access to the single market.”
Sky New’s chief political correspondent Jon Craig also says that Johnson’s statement “appears to put pressure on the Prime Minister to deliver on Brexit.”
And the Guardian says that Johnson’s “decision to record a message supporting Change Britain indicated the continued tensions over the issue within May’s government, where Johnson, along with other prominent pro-Brexiters Liam Fox and David Davis, is seen as pressing the case for a rapid and comprehensive exit.”
The Prime Minister has this week twice distanced herself from comments made by two of her three Brexit Ministers.
>Brexit Minister David Davis said in a speech setting out plans for leaving the European Union that it would be “very improbable” that the UK would retain access to the single market if it were to retake control of its borders. The Prime Minister’s spokesperson said this was just “his opinion.”
May also said comments made by International Trade Minister Liam Fox suggesting British businesses were “too fat and lazy” to export were just his opinion.
Between them, Johnson, Davis, and Fox are seen as the three key ministers who will determine the shape of Brexit, although the Prime Minister clearly wants to steer the process.