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Boris Johnson must ‘dial down’ rhetoric over Brexit, warns sacked Tory minister

Tobias Ellwood says general election is ‘reset button’ Tories need after Brexit

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Saturday 27 July 2019 15:47 BST
Tobias Ellwood: 'What I would say is, absolutely right, you need to have a general election'

Boris Johnson should “dial down” the rhetoric over Brexit, a former Conservative minister has warned amid warnings the government is on collision course with Brussels.

Tobias Ellwood, who was sacked by the new prime minister, admitted it was a “shock” to lose his job last week at the Ministry of Defence but said it was what politicians sign up for when they enter the “brutal game”.

The former army officer, hailed as a hero for his actions during the Westminster terror attack, had been highly critical about the prospect of a no-deal Brexit – something Mr Johnson’s administration has insisted it could pursue.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Mr Ellwood said a general election after Brexit was the “reset button” needed by the Conservatives in order to get through vital legislation in the House of Commons.

“The prime minister has one key objective, and that is to conclude Brexit,” he said. “I think the country is Brexit-fatigued, and there’s also been a loss in trust in politics, and it wants leadership, and there’s absolute clarity of where this prime minister wants to go.”

Asked about the rhetoric being used by Mr Johnson over Brexit, such as the “abolition” of the backstop, he replied: “If my one first bit of humble advice might be, it is let’s step back from the rhetoric on the campaign trail.”

Pressed on whether Mr Johnson should “dial down the rhetoric”, Mr Ellwood replied: “No, I think everybody should. We should allow and give space for a deal to be considered, get back to the drawing board, work out what could be advanced from the withdrawal agreement itself.”

As speculation mounted that Mr Johnson could call a snap general election in the coming months, Mr Ellwood said the Conservatives “don’t have the numbers” in the Commons to get legislation through.

He added: “We have a very aspirational manifesto that the prime minister has put forward – things like more policing we’ve heard of, education, efforts to tackle climate change, importance of broadband.”

But he said it was “absolutely right” the government wouldn’t be able to push its domestic reforms through the Commons given the current wafer-thin majority of two.

“What I would say is, absolutely right, you need to have a general election. That is the reset button to press in order to gain the numbers. Labour are not in a great position at the moment, so it’s good to call a general election.

“But you cannot do any of this until you resolve the one challenge, the main focus, and that is Brexit.”

On Friday, Mr Johnson ruled out a general election before the revised Brexit deadline of 31 October, claiming the British people “don’t want another electoral event”.

Asked if could reassure “Brenda from Bristol”, who famously showed exasperation at the then-prime minister Theresa May’s 2017 snap general election announcement, Mr Johnson replied: “Brenda from Bristol, everyone – absolutely, absolutely.”

But if he pursues a no-deal Brexit, Jeremy Corbyn has threatened to bring down the government by tabling a motion of no confidence in Mr Johnson’s government.

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