Boris Johnson breaks ranks with Brexit ‘vassal state’ warning

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 December, 2017, 5:19pm
UPDATED : Monday, 18 December, 2017, 9:14pm

Boris Johnson has insisted Britain must not become a “vassal state” of the European Union by being forced to adopt all its regulations, before a crucial cabinet meeting this week on how the government will conduct Brexit talks.

The cabinet is due to meet on Tuesday for the first substantive discussion of the “end state” the government should aim for in the next stage of negotiations, with Theresa May insisting she “would not be derailed” from delivering Brexit.

In a pair of defiant articles in The Sunday Telegraph and Sunday Express newspapers, after her defeat this week in the House of Commons over parliamentary scrutiny of a final Brexit deal, the prime minister said: “Amid all the noise, we are getting on with the job. In the face of those who want to talk Britain down, we are securing the best and most ambitious Brexit deal for our whole United Kingdom.”

She claimed personal credit for securing a deal with the EU27 allowing talks to progress to the next stage – as confirmed in Brussels on Friday.

But with the cabinet divided over how closely Britain should continue to align with EU rules after a transition period of around two years is over, Johnson broke ranks to insist the government must retain the freedom to set its own laws.

“What we need to do is something new and ambitious, which allows zero tariffs and frictionless trade but still gives us that important freedom to decide our own regulatory framework, our own laws and do things in a distinctive way in the future,” he told The Sunday Times.

He cited remarks by the chancellor in his recent budget that suggested he was also in favour of Britain setting its own regulations.

“It was very notable in the budget speech that the chancellor majored on the idea of future regulatory divergence. Philip can see that we have a very original economy, very different from other European countries: tech sectors, bioscience, bulk data, this is a very innovative place to be. We may in future wish to regulate it in a different way from the way that Brussels does,” he said.

If Britain mirrored EU rules, he said, people would ask: “‘What is the point of what you have achieved?’ because we would have gone from a member state to a vassal state.”

Crucially, Johnson conceded that by insisting on the right to set different regulations, Britain might suffer “trading consequences” in the negotiations with Brussels, but argued that it was worth it so Britain could become a champion of global free trade, and seek advantageous deals in other parts of the world.

Hammond sparked a fresh row this weekend when he set out clearly the fact that the government expected the transition period after Brexit day in March 2019 to “replicate the status quo”, with EU rules still in force.