Boris Johnson has warned that a second Brexit referendum would result in ‘another year of wrangling and turmoil’.
During a speech delivered at London’s Policy Exchange, the foreign secretary warned Remainers that derailing Brexit would be a “disastrous mistake”.
In a move that aligned him with the prime minister but that is likely to exasperate hard Brexiteers, Mr Johnson confirmed that ‘things will stay as they are’ during the Brexit transition period.
He said: ‘During the implementation period, as Theresa has said, things will remain as they are. It’s very important for confidence and for certainty. I realise there has been some misunderstanding about that.’
His speech, aimed at unifying a country still split over the issue of Brexit, insisted that leaving the bloc is a cause for hope not fear.
Taking questions from reporters, Mr Johnson refused to rule out his resigning if he doesn’t get his own way over Brexit, following speculation he could quit later in the year in order to make a point.
Asked to guarantee he would remain in post for the next year, even if the cabinet diverges from his post-EU vision, he responded: ‘We’re all very lucky to serve and I’m certainly one of those’.
He opened with a story about a constituent who was considering moving to Canada because of the outcome of the Brexit referendum, warning that anti-Brexit sentiment is hardening.
The staunch Brexiteer said he recognised the ‘grief and alienation’ felt by Leave supporters.
But he warned it would be ‘mad’ for the UK to accept a settlement that does not allow the UK to enjoy the “economic freedoms” of leaving the European Union.
In a barb aimed at both Tory colleagues and pressure groups arguing for continued close alignment with Brussels, Mr Johnson said: ‘We would be mad to go through this process of extrication from the EU and not to take advantage of the economic freedoms it will bring.’
Leaving the EU will also allow the UK to take back control of borders and laws, and will mean the country no longer has to pay out ‘huge sums’ to Brussels, Mr Johnson said.
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The speech, the first of six being made by Theresa May and senior Cabinet figures to set out the Government’s road map for Brexit, has been criticised for its lack of detail.
Tom Brake, the Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesman, said: ‘The lack of detail and understanding shown in this back of a fag packet speech would be astounding, if we didn’t already know that the government has no clue and no plan.’
Fellow Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston accused the cabinet minister of failing to address the ‘serious practical difficulties’ resulting from a hard Brexit.
#Boris presenting an optimistic vision of global Britain. I hope he is right. But his speech did not address any of the serious practical difficulties that will affect real peoples lives with a hard #Brexit
— Sarah Wollaston MP (@sarahwollaston) February 14, 2018
Labour’s Chuka Umunna said that there was ‘still no clarity from government’ following the speech.
The double standards of @BorisJohnson are quite something – he is now lambasting the EU for not having open decision making when he and his Government have done all they can to withhold information on the impact of #Brexit from Parliament and the people we represent
— Chuka Umunna (@ChukaUmunna) February 14, 2018
Shadow Brexit secretary Kier Starmer said: ‘Nobody will be fooled or reassured by the foreign secretary’s empty rhetoric. His insistence on deregulating our economy is the opposite of what businesses and trade unions want to hear.’
Others pointed out that Mr Johnson failed to mention the issue of the Irish border, one of the most fractious aspects of the negotiations so far.
Correct me if I'm wrong but not a single mention of N Ireland or Irish border in that Boris speech, which is pretty mind-blowing.
— James Rothwell (@JamesERothwell) February 14, 2018
An interlude then occurred during questions when Mr Johnson misheard a question from a reporter, leading him to start talking about carrots.
Asked ‘Where’s the clarity?’, he replied: ‘The carrots? The clarity. OK. God’, before explaining the benefits of Brexit for the organic farming sector.
Earlier today former Labour minister Yvette Cooper said Mr Johnson’s speech should not be taken seriously after he backed the controversial “Brexit bus” which claimed the UK sends £350 million a week to the EU.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, she said: “The problem with that is, from the point of view of a committee chair, we’ve got this speech being made which doesn’t seem to set out any detail.
“The Government cannot keep kicking the can down the road, we’ve got to actually have some practical details on it.
“To be honest, given everything he said about that bus, I don’t really see why we’re taking him seriously at all.”