- Former Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron goes on the attack against the “most ineffective” foreign secretary he has ever seen.
- Farron urges prime Minister Theresa May to distance herself from the “jingoistic nonsense” of Johnson and David Davis in her keynote Brexit speech in Italy on Friday.
- He describes Labour as having become “a Trotskyist party” under Jeremy Corbyn.
- Farron admits he was worried about losing his seat during the general election campaign.
LONDON — Boris Johnson is betraying Britain’s interests in a desperate attempt to become prime minister, former Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron has told Business Insider.
Describing Johnson as the “most ineffective” Foreign Secretary the country has ever had, Farron said that the foreign secretary was embarking on a “naked and vulgar” bid for power.
Speaking to BI at the Liberal Democrat Autumn conference in Bournemouth this week, Farron said Johnson’s real views on the EU were completely different to the position he had taken since the start of the EU referendum campaign.
“I’ve stopped laughing at Boris Johnson,” Farron, MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale, told BI.
“What I see from him — and everyone knows this is the case — is a man who understands the value of Britain being in the single market and someone who’s stated values say Britain should remain in the EU, but made a calculated, utterly personal decision to back Leave, because he thought Remain would win and therefore he’d end up being leader.
“You see people who put their party before their country. Johnson has put himself before his country and his party. I’m bored of him — and I hope his party gets bored of him pretty quickly.”
Farron added: “He says things to get a laugh and a reaction. If you’re the Foreign Secretary, you’re the head of the diplomatic core. Being diplomatic is about being effective, and therefore he is one the most ineffective and counterproductive Foreign Secretary we’ve ever had. He’s had a great impact — just the opposite impact of what we needed.
“The only outcome Boris Johnson is interested in is him becoming prime minister. It is so naked and vulgar, I am surprised the Tories tolerate him.”
Farron, who resigned as leader of the Liberal Democrats following the June general election, was responding to a 4,000-word essay Johnson penned for The Telegraph newspaper over the weekend setting out his vision for Brexit, just days before May plans to set out her own vision on Friday.
Johnson’s intervention was followed by an extraordinary public row with the head of the UK Statistics Authority, over his repeated use of the EU referendum campaign claim that Brexit will provide Britain with an extra £350 million a week to spend on the NHS.
With May set to update the world’s media on Brexit in Florence on Friday, Farron urged the prime minister to abandon the “infantile” approach to negotiations he claimed government ministers have taken up until now.
Tensions between the UK government and EU’s most senior officials have reached a new high in recent weeks as Brexit Secretary Davis and British negotiators have failed to reach an agreement with their EU counterparts on key issues in the opening stage of negotiations.
Davis last month accused EU negotiators of not being “flexible and pragmatic” enough after the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Bernier, said there had been no “decisive progress on any of the principle subjects.”
Farron claimed figures in Brussels and across Europe are “forming an opinion” of Britain “put out there by Davis and Johnson,” adding: “It’s bombastic, counterproductive, jingoistic nonsense that damages our negotiating position.”
He added: “Even if you’re an absolute hardnose Brexiteer, to have Britain’s position presented in such an infantile way by those people, damages Britain’s ability to get a good deal and damages Britain’s standing in the world. Theresa May has a lot riding on her shoulders to be a grown-up.”
The Labour Party “won’t save our place in Europe”
Labour has positioned itself as the party of soft Brexit in recent weeks. The party’s Brexit spokesperson, Sir Keir Starmer, has said a Labour government would keep Britain in both the single market and customs union during a transitional period, and even consider keeping Britain in both on a permanent basis should that be the only means of retaining their benefits after March 2019.
If Theresa May wants us to walk off a cliff, then Jeremy Corbyn wants to walk the plank. A few more yards, but still leading to the same place.
However, Farron refuses to believe that a Corbyn-led government would keep Britain in the single market on a permanent basis, as the Labour leader’s “worldview is that Europe is a capitalist club and we’re better off out of it,” he claimed.
He added: “It’s why I am confident Corbyn would have backed Leave if he hadn’t been compromised by being Labour leader. If you are committed to Britain being in the EU, you’ve only got 18 months to save the job, and if you’re in Labour, you’ve just lost your party.
“Don’t bother trying to save it. It is a Trotskyist party. It won’t save our place in Europe. You need to get out of there and get out of there now because time is running out.”
The former Liberal Democrat leader was keen to stress his party’s argument that a transition deal is not soft Brexit, but merely a means of delaying the inevitable hard Brexit. “All Labour has done is push a cliff edge two or three years down the line,” he said. “They realise that 90% of their members are something two-thirds of their voters are pro-Remain, so they are trying to spin their hard Brexit position to a bunch of people who think they sold them out.
“If Theresa May wants us to walk off a cliff, then Jeremy Corbyn wants to walk the plank. A few more yards, but still leading to the same place.”
Farron’s Brexit stance “was a risk” to his own seat
Reflecting on the general election campaign, Farron insisted that taking the “some would say Marmite position on Brexit” remained in his mind the right decision, despite the party being far away from pulling off the resurgence some people had initially predicted. The Liberal Democrats gained four MPs but saw its vote share drop by 0.4%.
“I took a very deliberate position on Brexit because I believe it, and because I felt the party’s major enemy over these past two years has been relevance,”
The party’s major enemy over these past two years has been relevance,”
he explained. “There was no point in a nuanced position,” he explained. “We have more than doubled the party membership as a result of that decision. The party is now the biggest it has ever been.”
Farron’s Brexit gamble was such a risk that it very nearly cost him his Westmorland and Lonsdale seat.
BI reported weeks before the June 8 election that Tories campaigners in Cumbria were confident of unseating the then-Lib Dem leader, and in the end, just 777 votes separated Farron from Conservative candidate James Airey.
Was Farron at any point concerned that his duties at national leader were hurting his local campaign?
“I think that’s probably true,” he admitted.
“You should always think that you could lose your seat. One of the worst things about British politics there is too many people who think they have got it on a plate. The biggest problem with the average Tory is they think they have got a right to win, wherever they are. That sort of arrogance breeds an ugliness in politics which I want to get rid of.”
“We had to be dead clear about what we thought on Brexit to get people’s attention. I always knew that was a risk to me personally.”
He continued: I also knew that if you’re someone who is so immersed in their community, being party leader will be construed by your opponents as you giving up. I think I am right in saying that the Tory campaign in Westmorland and Lonsdale has a record for the most amount of money any party has ever spent in any constituency anywhere — and they still lost.
“I love being my local MP, and I will be working my socks off to make sure we win by more next time.”
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