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Blow for Theresa May as minister Jo Johnson quits and backs second Brexit referendum

4 min read

Theresa May has been rocked by another frontbench resignation over Brexit as minister Jo Johnson tore into her plans for leaving the EU and called for a second referendum.

The Transport Minister - who is the brother of pro-Brexit ex-foreign secretary Boris Johnson - said the British public was now being left with "no choice at all" over a deal he warned would be "a terrible mistake".

In a highly-charged resignation statement, the previously loyal MP, who backed Remain in the 2016 vote, said the Prime Minister's "travesty" Brexit proposals would leave the UK "economically weakened, with no say in the EU rules it must follow and years of uncertainty for business".

And he warned against an alternative "no deal" Brexit that would "inflict untold damage on our nation".

He added: "To present the nation with a choice between two deeply unattractive outcomes, vassalage and chaos, is a failure of British statecraft on a scale unseen since the Suez crisis. My constituents in Orpington deserve better than this from their Government."

In a statement, Mr Johnson said: "I have never rebelled on any issue before now. But my duty to my constituents and our great nation has forced me to act.

"I have today written to the Prime Minister asking her to accept my resignation from the Government.

"It is now my intention to vote against this Withdrawal Agreement. I reject this false choice between the PM’s deal and 'no deal' chaos.

"On this most crucial of questions, I believe it is entirely right to go back to the people and ask them to confirm their decision to leave the EU and, if they choose to do that, to give them the final say on whether we leave with the Prime Minister’s deal or without it."

The Orpington MP meanwhile lifted the lid on his own time at the Department for Transport, saying Britain was now standing "on the brink of the greatest crisis since the Second World War" with the prospect of leaving without deal presenting the country with "potential chaos".

"There are real questions about how we will be able to guarantee access to fresh food and medicine if the crucial Dover-Calais trade route is clogged up," he warned.

"The government may have to take control of prioritising which lorries and which goods are allowed in and out of the country, an extraordinary and surely unworkable intervention for a government in an advanced capitalist economy.

"The prospect of Kent becoming the Lorry Park of England is very real in a no deal scenario."

But Number 10 hit back at the departing minister's call for a fresh referendum on Brexit.

A Downing Street spokesman said: "The referendum in 2016 was the biggest democratic exercise in this country’s history. We will not under any circumstances have a second referendum.

"The Prime Minister thanks Jo Johnson for his work in government.”


Mr Johnson's exit was swiftly welcomed by his brother Boris, who said he had "boundless admiration as ever for my brother Jo".

The ex-Cabinet minister added in a tweet: "We may not have agreed about brexit but we are united in dismay at the intellectually and politically indefensible of the UK position"

The move was meanwhile backed by fellow Tory Remainer Heidi Allen, who said the MP had put "his country first".

She added: "If we don’t know what our future trade deal with the EU will look like, MPs shouldn’t support it."

Labour seized on the exit of Mr Johnson to accuse the Prime Minister of being "in office, but not in power".

Shadow Brexit Minister Jenny Chapman said: "Jo Johnson is the eighteenth minister to resign from Theresa May’s government. She has lost all authority and is incapable of negotiating a Brexit deal within her own party, let alone with the EU."

The resignation is the latest to hit Mrs May since she unveiled her controversial Chequers proposals for Brexit over the summer, and comes just weeks before MPs may be expected to vote on a deal she strikes with Brussels. Brexiteers Boris Johnson, David Davis and Steve Baker all resigned in a single day over the plans.

The departure of a previously-loyal minister makes the parliamentary arithmetic even more difficult for the Prime Minister as she seeks to get an agreement through the Commons.

Earlier in the year fellow Remain-supporter Philip Lee quit and said he would find it "hard to live with" himself if he continued to support the Government's Brexit proposals.

Read Jo Johnson's resignation statement in full

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