Theresa May won’t sack Boris Johnson despite leaked tape warning of Brexit ‘meltdown’ and crafty Chinese negotiators
The British foreign secretary also said he had come to admire the chaotic negotiating style of US President Donald Trump, and that Trump would do well if he oversaw Brexit
UK Prime Minister Theresa May has resisting calls for her to sack Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson in the wake of an explosive leaked recording, saying Johnson has “strong views on Brexit … but so do I”.
In a private speech to the Conservative Way Forward group, Johnson is heard dismissing the cautious approach of Philip Hammond’s Treasury, which he said had focused on “mumbo jumbo” predictions about short-term disruption, instead of the potential gains from leaving the EU.
He also predicted a “meltdown” over negotiations with Brussels, suggested that US President Donald Trump could do a better job, and said China “will try to stiff” the UK.
May, who was in the air en route to the G7 summit in Canada when the foreign secretary’s words were leaked, was questioned about Johnson’s comments upon landing in Quebec.
“These are complex negotiations. Boris has strong views on Brexit but so do I,” she told Channel 4 News. “I want to deliver for the British people, that’s exactly what we are doing as a government and if you look at the process of these negotiations – nobody ever said it was going to be easy.”
In his latest indiscreet remarks, which were recorded and leaked to BuzzFeed News, Johnson said the government was reaching a phase in negotiations “where we are much more combative with Brussels”, telling Conservative activists: “You’ve got to face the fact there may now be a meltdown. OK?”
“I don’t want anybody to panic during the meltdown. No panic. Pro bono publico, no bloody panic. It’s going to be all right in the end.” He added, according to further quotes revealed in The Times: “Take the fight to the enemy – absolutely right. We need to – and we will.”
On China, Johnson said: “We need to engage with China diplomatically, treat China as our friend and our partner, but also recognise that they are our commercial rivals. And they will try to stiff us.”
Johnson also said US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had asked Britain to use its nuclear expertise in helping North Korea dismantle its arsenal.
“What they want us to do is to use our nuclear expertise to dismantle Kim Jong-un’s nuclear missile. That’s what he asked me to do today,” he said.
Johnson, Britain’s chief diplomat, also said he was “increasingly admiring of Donald Trump”.
“I have become more and more convinced that there is method in his madness,” he said. “Imagine Trump doing Brexit.
“He’d go in bloody hard … There’d be all sorts of breakdowns, all sorts of chaos. Everyone would think he’d gone mad. But actually you might get somewhere. It’s a very, very good thought.”
The leading Brexiteer talked about divisions within the British government, saying that Brexit “will happen, and I think it will be irreversible, but … the risk is that it will not be the one we want”.
He said the establishment was seeking to ensure that Brexit “does as little change as possible”, with “the risk is that you will end up in an anteroom of the EU, locked in orbit around the EU”.
Away from domestic politics, Johnson also suggested May would put forward a new plan at the G7 summit in Canada for a “rapid response unit” to deal with Russian aggression, including cyber-warfare.