Theresa May launches withering attack on Boris Johnson: 'No new ideas'

The prime minister's attack comes as MPs return to Westminster ahead of what will likely be a tumultuous parliamentary session

Joe Watts
Political Editor
Monday 03 September 2018 12:41
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What does a no-deal Brexit mean?

Theresa May has launched a withering attack on her leadership rival Boris Johnson, accusing him of having “no new ideas” on Brexit.

Downing Street took a swipe at Mr Johnson’s credibility, choosing to highlight how the country needs “serious leadership” as well as a “serious plan”.

The prime minister’s official spokesman delivered the attack on Monday, just hours after an article by Mr Johnson was published containing severe criticism of Ms May’s Brexit proposals.

It was followed up by criticism from home secretary Sajid Javid, who said Conservative MPs should be seeking to “support the prime minister with her plan”.

The clash marks the renewal of the parliamentary sitting following the summer recess, raising the curtain on what is likely to be a tumultuous few months as MPs battle over Brexit.

Over the weekend a plot emerged to bring down Ms May’s Chequers proposals – named after the country retreat where the cabinet agreed them – involving Tory election guru Sir Lynton Crosby. It is also claimed dozens of Tories are ready to vote the plans down, with Mr Johnson said to be on manoeuvres for a leadership bid.

French minister Nathalie Loiseau says May's Brexit plan is not possible

After Mr Johnson’s column claimed Ms May’s approach would leave the UK “lying flat on the canvas”, the No 10 spokesman said: “Boris Johnson resigned over Chequers, there’s no new ideas in this article to respond to.

“What we need at this time is serious leadership, with a serious plan. That’s exactly what the country has with this prime minister and this Brexit plan.”

Boris Johnson resigned over Chequers, there’s no new ideas in this article to respond to

Theresa May’s official spokesman

Downing Street claimed that the current proposals put forward by the prime minister are the “only credible and negotiable plan” suggested from any quarter and that they would deliver on “the will of the people”.

Asked whether the prime minister would make further concessions from the plans that she has already set out, the spokesman said: “This is a negotiation.

“What the prime minister has said very clearly is that we have now made our move and it is for the European Union to make its move.”

The spokesman added that there were a “number of things” that were not negotiable including, “taking back control of our laws, our borders and our money”.

Speaking at a conference later in the day Mr Javid backed the PM against his former cabinet colleague Mr Johnson.

Asked whether Mr Johnson is hindering Brexit negotiations, he said: “The thing that’s helpful is for us all to support the prime minister with her plan and make sure it gets a fair hearing with the EU and for those who think there’s a different way, then they need to properly set out what alternatives there might be.

“But right now, this is the plan that’s been put forward by parliament and the UK government and it’s still being considered by all the different bits that make up the EU. Let’s see what they say, but that’s the plan and it’s the one everyone should unite around.”

Mr Johnson called the prime minister’s Chequers deal a “fix”, said it would not deliver on the 2016 referendum and also accused some members of the cabinet of trying to “stop a proper Brexit” by using the problem of the Northern Ireland border to keep Britain closely tied to the European Union.

Theresa May says how people would vote in a referendum on the final deal is not the issue

He wrote: “The fix is in. The whole thing is about as pre-ordained as a bout between Giant Haystacks and Big Daddy; and in this case, I am afraid, the inevitable outcome is victory for the EU, with the UK lying flat on the canvas with 12 stars circling symbolically over our semi-conscious heads.”

The ex-foreign secretary added: “The reality is that the EU has so far taken every important trick. The UK has agreed to hand over £40bn of taxpayers’ money for two thirds of diddly squat.”

Tory Brexiteers have complained that the Chequers plan would keep Britain tied too closely to the EU, because it would involve the UK adopting a “common rule book” for goods and collecting tariffs on behalf of the bloc.

Those proposals were developed as a way of maintaining an open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland when UK leaves the EU, including the single market and customs union, next March.

However, Mr Johnson said the border had been “ingeniously manipulated” by some members of the government to block Brexit.

Sir Lynton Crosby is said to have ordered allies to work with former minister Steve Baker and other hardline Brexiteers in the European Research Group of Tory MPs – chaired by Jacob Rees-Mogg – to bring down Ms May’s Chequers proposal, something that could well lead to her fall.

One potential plan is to revive the campaign group Change Britain, which some see as a possible platform for Mr Johnson’s leadership campaign.

Former Brexit secretary David Davis confirmed in an interview that he will vote against any deal with the EU based on Theresa May’s Chequers compromise.

The Eurosceptic ex-cabinet minister said the proposals put forward by Ms May would be “worse than staying in” the European Union.

His admission makes it more likely the prime minister will be unable to get any deal based on her plans through the House of Commons where she has a wafer thin majority and a number of her own MPs already openly oppose her proposals.

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