No Brexit U-turn for Britain likely, say Tory Eurosceptics
Labour seeks evidence for Boris Johnson’s claims about UK weekly savings post-Brexit
Britain’s foreign secretary Boris Johnson: has revived and expanded his financial claims about Brexit. Photograph: Rick Findler/PA Wire
Conservative Eurosceptics have dismissed Donald Tusk’s suggestion that Britain could change its mind on Brexit in time to reverse the article 50 withdrawal process. Bernard Jenkin, a backbench MP who campaigned to leave the EU, said it would be absurd to do anything other than implement the outcome of the 2016 referendum.
“The referendum was won by the Leave campaign against the odds and against the expectation because nobody could find anything good to say about the European Union during the campaign,” he said.
“All we had was fear from the government about what would go wrong if we chose to leave. Most of those fears have not been realised. We were meant to have 500,000 more unemployed, we were meant to be in recession by now. That has not happened. Most countries aren’t in the EU and they’re fine.”
Mr Jenkin was speaking as MPs debated the EU Withdrawal Bill, which repeals the legislation that brought Britain into the Common Market in 1973 and allows for the transfer of EU rules into British law. The government suffered a defeat on the Bill last month when 11 Conservative rebels joined opposition MPs to back an amendment that will give parliament a vote on the final Brexit deal.
No further amendments are expected to pass before the Bill moves to the House of Lords but former Conservative chancellor Kenneth Clarke on Tuesday said he hoped peers would introduce more amendments.
“This is a pathetic parliament so far in the way in which it’s handled this extraordinary measure before it,” he said.
Labour on Tuesday asked the UK Statistics Authority for a statement on the accuracy of Boris Johnson’s claim that leaving the EU could free up even more than the £350 million a week for the National Health Service that the Leave campaign claimed during the Brexit referendum. The figure was based on the gross payment Britain makes to the EU budget, without subtracting its rebate or money that is sent back from Brussels for programmes.
In an interview with the Guardian, Mr Johnson said Britain’s gross contribution was set to rise to £438 million by the end of a transition period after Brexit. “There was an error on the side of the bus. We grossly underestimated the sum over which we would be able to take back control,” he said.
Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer complained to the head of the statistics authority, who has condemned the £350 million claim as a clear misuse of official statistics.
“Mr Johnson has chosen to repeat this statement and expand on the claim even further. I do not believe this to be acceptable. I would therefore be grateful if you could make a statement on the accuracy of the foreign secretary’s most recent comments,” Sir Keir said.
Some Conservative MPs who campaigned to remain in the EU also criticised Mr Johnson’s revival and expansion of the claim but Theresa May’s official spokesman declined to contradict the foreign secretary.
“Does the amount of money which we send to the EU fluctuate? And the answer is, yes it does. Some years it is bigger, some years it is smaller. Those figures are published on the OBR [Office for Budget Responsibility] website. The PM has said that once we leave the EU we will have significant sums of money which we will choose how that money is spent, and we can spend that on our priority areas,” the spokesman said.