'No new ideas': Theresa May slaps down Boris Johnson over attack on her Chequers plan
Theresa May has accused Boris Johnson of having “no new ideas” after he attacked the government’s Brexit strategy.
In an uncharacteristically strong rebuke, Number 10 dismissed the former foreign secretary’s latest column in the Daily Telegraph, in which he attacked the Chequers Brexit plan.
Mrs May’s official spokesman said: “Boris Johnson resigned over Chequers.
“There’s no new ideas in this article to respond to. What we need now is serious leadership and a serious plan.”
Mr Johnson had launched another scathing attack on Mrs May’s Brexit White Paper, branding it a “fix” that can only lead to victory for the EU.
In what has been widely viewed as the beginning of a bid to oust the PM, Mr Johnson insisted the UK is “lying flat on the canvas” in withdrawal talks.
He claimed Mrs May’s Brexit strategy would leave the UK with “diddly squat”.
He said Britain has “gone into battle with the white flag fluttering over our leading tank” due to Mrs May’s plans to align UK standards on goods with the EU rules.
He compared withdrawal negotiations between Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab and the EU’s Michel Barnier to a rigged wrestling match.
Writing in his column in the Daily Telegraph, Mr Johnson said: “Out of their corners come Dominic Raab and Michel Barnier, shrugging their shoulders and beating their chests – and I just hope you aren’t one of those trusting souls who still thinks it could really go either way.
“The fix is in. The whole thing is about as pre-ordained as a bout between Giant Haystacks and Big Daddy; and in this case, I am afraid, the inevitable outcome is a victory for the EU, with the UK lying flat on the canvas and 12 stars circling symbolically over our semi-conscious head.”
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Mr Johnson accused “some members” of the government of deliberately using the Irish border situation to “stop a proper Brexit” and effectively keep Britain in the EU.
He said that the real “scandal” was “not that we have failed, but that we have not even tried” on Brexit.
The intervention comes as Mrs May faces growing opposition on Tory benches to the compromise on the Brexit strategy which triggered Mr Johnson’s resignation as foreign secretary.
With Parliament returning from recess on Tuesday, the PM is expected to face a coordinated effort from Tory hardline Brexiteers to abandon her exit agenda amid reports that election strategist Sir Lynton Crosby is involved in a “chuck Chequers” campaign.
Mr Barnier has stated he “strongly opposed” the Chequers proposals because such “cherry-picking” would mean the end of the European project if enacted.
The comments followed claims from former Brexit secretary David Davis that Mrs May had positioned herself for “open sesame” on further Brexit climbdowns after saying she would not be pushed into compromises “that are not in our national interest”.
Mr Davis branded the Chequers blueprint as being “actually almost worse than being in” the EU.
However, the former leadership hopeful cautioned against any efforts to unseat Mrs May over the plans.
“Let me be absolutely clear. It is absolutely possible to dump Chequers without changing leader – and that’s the best way to do it,” he told The Times.
“Anyone who conflates getting rid of Chequers with changing the leadership is confusing their aims.”
Conservative MP Nick Boles criticised Mr Johnson’s attack on the prime minister, calling it “unfair and a bit derogatory”.
Mr Boles told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “This is not the time to start monkeying around changing leader.”
He said he backed Mrs May but asked her to replace her Brexit plan with his own.
“She has not succeeded, let’s be clear, but we have a prime minister and I want her to deliver a better Brexit – the kind of Brexit I have set out in my plan.” he said.
Mr Boles wants the UK to ditch the current transition period with the EU and instead park in the Norway model before moving to a Canada-style free trade deal.
The transition period would be replaced by temporary membership of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and the European Economic Area (EEA).
“We can’t get to Nirvana in one step,” Mr Boles said. “I’m suggesting we reject the current withdrawal plan in its entirety.”
He added his was “a much superior option” to the Chequers plan, which he said now had “as close to zero” a chance of winning support from Parliament.
“What I want is a plan that’s workable,” he added, not a “humiliation” by the EU.