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Brexit

Boris Johnson sets out vision of Brexit, prompting speculation about challenge to Theresa May

Prime Minister May’s authority was weakened after she called a snap election in June, only to lose her Conservative party’s majority in the House of Commons

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 16 September, 2017, 11:49am
UPDATED : Saturday, 16 September, 2017, 11:50am

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson made a rallying cry for Brexit on Friday in what will be viewed as a challenge to Prime Minister Theresa May, one week before her own big speech on the subject.

In a 4,000-word article for The Daily Telegraph newspaper, Johnson argued for a clean break with the European Union, particularly on the fraught issue of budget payments.

Johnson, who has long been tipped as a future prime minister, played a key role in the referendum vote to leave the bloc last year but since then has largely stayed out of domestic politics.

His intervention, exactly one week before the prime minister makes a speech on Brexit in Florence next Friday, raised more than a few eyebrows among politicians and commentators.

I do not underestimate the scale of the task ahead as we take back control of our destiny
Boris Johnson, foreign secretary

May’s authority was weakened after she called a snap election in June, only to lose her Conservative party’s majority in the House of Commons.

“Is this time to place our future in Boris’s hands and prepare for new leadership?” Telegraph commentator Charles Moore wrote in an accompanying article.

As negotiations with the EU stall, Johnson sought to emphasis the benefits of Brexit against those who “think we are going to bottle it”.

He wrote that the referendum was “decisive” and said Britain must leave the EU’s customs union and single market, the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and impose controls on borders.

He argued long-term payments to Brussels should also end, before reviving the much derided referendum campaign pledge to divert the budgetary payments into Britain’s state-funded National Health Service.

“We would not expect to pay for access to their markets any more than they would expect to pay for access to ours,” he wrote.

“And yes – once we have settled our accounts, we will take back control of roughly £350 million (US$473 million) per week.

“It would be a fine thing, as many of us have pointed out, if a lot of that money went on the NHS, provided we use that cash injection to modernise and make the most of new technology.”

Johnson concluded: “I do not underestimate the scale of the task ahead as we take back control of our destiny.

“All I say is that they are in grievous error – all those who write off this country, who think we don’t have it in us, who think we lack the nerve and the confidence to tackle the task ahead.”

Downing Street said May would use her speech in Florence, which comes just days before the next round of Brexit negotiations with Brussels, to provide an update on the withdrawal process.