Theresa May says she is ‘cross’ over Boris Johnson speech

British PM reacts after former foreign secretary labels Chequers Brexit plan ‘a cheat’

Boris Johnson made a scathing attack on Theresa May’s Chequers proposal during his speech at the Conservative party conference.

Boris Johnson has denounced Theresa May's Chequers plan as "a cheat" that would fuel populist extremism and leave Britain manacled to Brussels indefinitely. In a speech to more than 1,400 people at a fringe meeting at the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham, Mr Johnson said it would be "politically humiliating" for Britain to continue to follow EU regulations after Brexit.

“It would mean that whatever the EU came up with, banning the sale of eggs by the dozen, banning diabetics from driving, banning vaping, whatever – and all of those have been at least considered by Brussels in the last few years – all of this nonsense we would have to implement with no ability to change or resist,” he said.

“This is not pragmatic, it is not a compromise. It is dangerous and unstable – politically and economically. My fellow Conservatives, this is not democracy. This is not what we voted for. This is an outrage,” he said.

Conservative activists queued for up to three hours to hear Mr Johnson speak, greeting him with a standing ovation and punctuating his speech with numerous rounds of sustained applause. A small number of MPs attended, including prominent Brexiteers Iain Duncan Smith, Priti Patel, John Redwood, Owen Paterson and David Davis.


‘Abominable’ backstop

Mr Johnson called on the prime minister to seek a free trade agreement with the EU based on the principles she set out in her Lancaster House speech in January 2017. And he said she should abandon the commitment she made last December to a legally binding Border backstop.

“So now, therefore, is the time truly to take back control and make the elegant, dignified and grateful exit the country voted for. This is the moment – and there is time – to chuck Chequers, to scrap the commission’s constitutionally abominable Northern Ireland backstop, to use the otherwise redundant and miserable ‘implementation period’ to the end of 2020 to negotiate the super-Canada FTA [free trade agreement], to invest in all the customs procedures that may be needed to ensure continued frictionless trade and to prepare much more vigorously for a WTO deal,” he said.

The former foreign secretary, who resigned from Ms May’s cabinet last July in protest against the Chequers plan, which would keep the UK closely aligned with the EU after Brexit, said the proposal would fuel calls for a second referendum on Brexit. And he warned that any deal that was perceived as failing to respect the outcome of the referendum would fuel extremism.


“If we get it wrong, if we proceed with this undemocratic solution, if we remain half in, half out, we will protract this toxic tedious business that is frankly so off-putting to sensible middle-of-the-road people who want us to get on with their priorities,” he said.

“If we cheat the electorate – and Chequers is a cheat – we will escalate the sense of mistrust. We will give credence to those who cry betrayal, and I am afraid we will make it more likely that the ultimate beneficiary of the Chequers deal will be the far right in the form of Ukip.”

Ms May said she did not watch Mr Johnson's speech but she said she was "cross" about his remarks on Northern Ireland and the backstop.

“What he appeared to be saying was he wanted to tear up something which was effectively a guarantee to the people of Northern Ireland. I believe as a unionist that it is important that we recognise the needs and concerns of people in Northern Ireland,” she said.

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times