Brexit: Jo Johnson insists Theresa May can be forced into Final Say referendum

‘Government policy is always government policy until it isn’t – you remember what the prime minister was saying about holding another general election in 2017’

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Saturday 10 November 2018 10:16
Jo Johnson insists Theresa May can be forced into Final Say referendum on Brexit

Jo Johnson has insisted Theresa May can be forced into calling a Final Say referendum, as he urged other Tories to “take a stand” and fight her Brexit plan.

The former transport minister – who dramatically resigned, branding the proposals a “con” – pointed to a previous U-turn by the prime minister to ridicule her rejection of a fresh public vote.

“Government policy is always government policy until it isn’t,” he said. “You remember what the prime minister was saying about holding another general election in 2017?

“There was absolutely no plan, it was against the national interest to hold a general election – and then, suddenly we were holding a general election.”

Mr Johnson stopped short of urging other ministers to quit, but said: “This is so important that it’s up to MPs to take a stand.”

On the rumoured resignations of other ministers, he added: “I have done so – if others feel it’s right for them to do so, good on them.”

The brother of Boris Johnson stepped up his attack on Ms May’s strategy a day after condemning a “failure of British statecraft on a scale unseen since the Suez crisis”.

Warning Britain “stands on the brink of the greatest crisis since the Second World War”, he became the ninth Conservative MP to demand she “give the public the final say”.

The call came after the number of signatures on The Independent’s petition for a Final Say referendum cleared one million in just over three months.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Mr Johnson said it would not be a second referendum – but a first vote “on the reality of the deal that we have been able to achieve”.

He condemned the “false prospectus and fantasy promises” of the first campaign, in a swipe at his brother who fronted Vote Leave, and its notorious boasts about easy trade deals and billions for the NHS.

“My view is that this is so different from what was billed that it would be an absolute travesty if we do not go back to the people and ask them if they actually do want to exit the EU on this extraordinarily hopeless basis,” Mr Johnson said.

He insisted he was not trying to start a coup to bring down his leader, saying that was “not what I am seeking to achieve”.

Nevertheless, the walkout by a prominent pro-Remain Tory has underlined how the prime minister faces challenges from both wings of her party in its ongoing trauma over Europe.

Meanwhile, members of the Democratic Unionist Party, which props the Tories up in parliament, have stepped up their threats to vote against the Brexit deal over the Irish border “backstop”.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, a leading Brexiteer, said: “That the government has negotiated incompetently does not mean we should reverse the result of the referendum.”

Damian Green, the prime minister’s former effective deputy, said: “My basic disagreement with Jo is about the need for a second referendum.

“I think a second referendum would be divisive, but it wouldn’t be decisive. All the evidence is that the country is still, more or less, split down the middle.”

The cabinet is still expected to meet on Monday or Tuesday to agree Ms May’s proposed deal – but only after a weekend of continued negotiations in Brussels and with No 10 braced for further resignations.

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