UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson isn’t resigning after branding PM’s Brexit plan a ‘turd’

British Prime Minister Theresa May has persuaded her Eurosceptic ministers to back a plan for closer trade ties with the EU after Brexit

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 08 July, 2018, 3:04pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 08 July, 2018, 8:43pm

Boris Johnson has decided not to quit as foreign secretary over UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s soft Brexit plan because he wants to remain in Cabinet and fight for the divorce he wants, according to a person familiar with his thinking.

As the most prominent supporter of Brexit in the Cabinet, and as a vocal critic of May’s vision for close ties with the European Union, Johnson might have been expected to walk out once May told ministers that they had to back her plans or leave.

Brexit-supporting Conservative lawmakers privately questioned why he hadn’t.

The reason, according to the person who spoke on condition of anonymity, is that Johnson believes May would have gone for an even closer relationship with the EU if he hadn’t been making the case against it.

He believes he will have to fight the Eurosceptic cause even harder in the future, and that he’s best placed to do that inside the Cabinet, the person said.

It’s similar to the argument Johnson made two weeks ago when he explained why, despite having promised to fight with all his strength against a third runway at London’s Heathrow Airport, he hadn’t resigned once that became government policy.

“My resignation would have achieved absolutely nothing,” he said then, before avoiding a vote on the issue by travelling abroad.

Rebels silenced as Theresa May wins cabinet backing for ‘soft Brexit’ plan

The prime minister was emphatic on Friday that she would no longer tolerate the kind of open dissent she’s seen from Johnson and others in the past year. It remains to be seen whether the foreign secretary would be less vocal.

Some UK media reported that Johnson at Friday’s Cabinet meeting described defending May’s proposal as like “polishing a turd”, before falling in line.

His decision – and that of other Brexit-backers – not to resign leaves Tory lawmakers who are critical of May’s deal short of prominent champions.

This doesn’t mean they’ll go down without a fight, though. On Saturday, they were circulating an 18-page critique of May’s plan, which warned it could leave Britain in a “black hole Brexit” bound by EU rules but unable to influence them.

The premier expressed hope the deal would end two years of public splits that sparked exasperation among European leaders and businesses seeking a clear path.

In a letter to members of her Conservative party, she said “collective responsibility is now fully restored”.

“The only challenge that needs to be made now is to the EU to get serious about this, to come round the table and discuss it with us,” she told The Sunday Times.

But time is running out to secure a deal before Britain leaves the bloc in March.

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said plans would be assessed after they are published in a policy paper this week, to “see if they are workable and realistic”.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse