Boris Johnson accuses Theresa May of seeking 'Brexit in name only' in damning resignation speech

Jack Taylor/Getty ImagesBoris Johnson
  • Boris Johnson delivers a withering assessment of the prime minister and her Brexit plans in his resignation speech to MPs.
  • The former Foreign Secretary accuses the prime minister of signing up to “economic vassalage.”
  • He calls on May to change her approach or risk betraying the Brexit vote.
  • Johnson resigned from his post last week over May’s plan to maintain EU regulations after Brexit.

LONDON – Boris Johnson has accused Theresa May of seeking “Brexit in name only” in a damning speech to mark his resignation from Cabinet last week.

In a withering assessment of the prime minister’s handling of Brexit, the former Foreign Secretary told MPs that Britain is heading for “economic vassalage” and warned that “a fog of self-doubt” has descended over the prime minister’s premiership.

He said that ministers had “dithered” for 18 months in negotiations with the EU, and accused May of allowing the Northern Irish border issue to become too central to negotiations.

“We dithered and we burned through our negotiating capital,” he told MPs.

“Worst of all we allowed the question of the Northern Ireland border… to become so politically charged as to dominate the debate.”

He condemned the prime minister’s decision to move away from a Brexit vision presented in January last year at Lancaster House and towards the Chequers agreement reached earlier this month, which would see the UK pursue a softer form of Brexit and remain closely aligned with some EU rules.

“The result of accepting the EU’s rulebooks … is that we have much less scope to do free trade deals,” he said. “Which we should all acknowledge because if we don’t we make the fatal mistake of underestimating the intelligence of the public… saying one thing to the EU and another to the electorate.” He insisted it was “not too late to save Brexit.”

“We have time, we have changed tack once and we can change again,” he said.

Leading Tory Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg called Johnson’s statement “the speech of a statesman.”

Johnson resigned as Foreign Secretary last week in protest against Theresa May’s Brexit plans, throwing the Cabinet into further chaos and raising the prospect of a leadership challenge against the prime minister.

In a subsequent letter, he told May that Britain was “truly headed for the status of [a] colony” and that the “dream” of Brexit “is dying.”

His resignation followed a Cabinet summit at which ministers agreed to follow May’s plan to pursue a softer form of Brexit which would keep the UK aligned with EU regulations on key issues.

Echoes of Howe

Boris johnson Getty

Johnson’s statement had echoes of the resignation speech given by Sir Geoffrey Howe in 1990, which helped bring about the fall of Margaret Thatcher. Johnson himself appeared keen to play up the parallels, sitting just inches away from where Howe delivered his own speech.

It on top of another very difficult day for the prime minister, after narrowly surviving a key vote on the customs union last night, and caving to the demands of hardline Tory Brexiteers in a series of votes on Monday.

At the time Johnson was delivering the speech, May was being subjected to a forensic cross-examination by the influential Liason Committee of MPs who grilled her about Brexit among other topics.

She will also meet the all-powerful 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers this afternoon following a month in which calls for her resignation from her own MPs have grown.

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