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Boris Johnson tells Theresa May: Chuck Chequers or leave the UK 'manacled' to Brussels

Boris Johnson tells Theresa May: Chuck Chequers or leave the UK 'manacled' to Brussels

Emilio Casalicchio

5 min read

Boris Johnson today urged Theresa May to change course on Brexit or risk leaving the UK a trophy prisoner of Brussels.

The Tory bigwig said the Prime Minister's Chequers plan was a "cheat" which would see the country "effectively paraded in manacles down the Rue de la Loi like Caractacus”.

His comment references a British chieftan who fought against the Romans but was ultimately captured and forced to beg for his own life.

In an address to 1,500 Tory members at the party’s annual conference in Birmingham, the former Cabinet minister laid out his vision for Britain in a clear pitch for Mrs May's job.

He said the Tories must champion traditional Conservative values like low taxes and home ownership to defeat Labour's "weaselly cabal of superannuated Marxists and Hugo Chavez-admiring, anti-Semitism-condoning, Kremlin apologists".

But he reserved his fiercest attack for the Chequers deal pro-Brexit Tory MPs have insisted must be dumped - arguing it would see Britain too closely tied to Brussels after leaving the EU.

Mr Johnson declared: “What the Chequers proposals show is that the United Kingdom, for all its power and might and network of influences around the world, for all its venerable parliamentary history, was ultimately unable to take back control.

“And instead of reasserting our ability to make our own laws, the UK will be effectively paraded in manacles down the Rue de la Loi like Caractacus.”

He added: “We will be unable to make our own laws – to vary our regulatory framework for goods, agrifoods and much much more besides. This is politically humiliating for a £2 trillion economy.”

And he said: “If we get this right, it can be win-win for both sides of the Channel. If we get it wrong – if we bottle Brexit now – believe me, the people of this country will find it hard to forgive…

“If we cheat the electorate – and Chequers is a cheat – we will escalate the sense of mistrust. We will give credence to those who cry betrayal, and I am afraid we will make it more likely that the ultimate beneficiary of the chequers deal will be the far right in the form of Ukip.”

Mr Johnson also issued a warning to his former ally Michael Gove - who has suggested the UK should get the Brexit deal over the line then amend it later.

He said: “Do not believe that we can somehow get it wrong now and fix it later – get out properly next year, or the year after. Total fantasy.”

However, critics will point out that his 25-minute speech failed to provide a detailed alternative to Mrs May's Brexit blueprint, and was completely silent on how he would maintain an open border in Ireland.

Elsewhere, Mr Johnson tackled issues such as housing, taxation, stop and search and the financial crash of 2008.

He also laid into Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, describing him as "a man who takes money from Iranian TV, who can barely bring himself to condemn the Russian state for the Salisbury atrocity, who indulges anti-Semitism, and who by opportunistically committing himself to the misery and farce of a second referendum, has finally revealed himself to be the patsy of the EU as well".

Brexiteer MPs gave Mr Johnson's speech the thumbs-up, with John Redwood saying he laid out "what the country voted for".

Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith said: “I thought it was a very balanced speech. It was a reminder to the Conservatives why we are a Conservative party...

“He was clear that he wants to support the PM on her lancaster house statement - so let’s get back to that and get off the chequers nonsense that doesn’t deliver Brexit.”


Fellow pro-Brexit MP and former minister Steve Baker told PoliticsHome: “It’s the imperatives of the time that we are in that are leading us to creating this moment. If people want to see it as a leadership pitch and so on and so forth then so be it...

"But the imperative is that the policy is changed and the only way we can make clear the scale of feeling and momentum is to create moments like this so the PM can understand where her party and her country is."

On whether Mr Johnson posed a threat to the Tory leader, he added: "I don’t think anybody is engaging in threats. Politics is what it is and you will all extend and hypothesise what else might happen - but god knows this country needs a bit of joy at the moment and that’s what Boris brings."

The speech by Mr Johnson came 24 hours before Mrs May's own keynote conference address, and piled more pressure on her to win over a party sceptical about her Brexit strategy.

Asked about Mr Johnson's attempt to derail the Conservative conference this morning, the Prime Minister refused to talk about her former Cabinet minister.

She told the BBC: "You know, at this conference what I feel is that I and this government and this party are getting on with the important job of working on getting a good deal for the United Kingdom when we leave the European Union... but also working on the opportunities that there will be for this country and for people in this country when we leave the European Union."

The PM added: "That's what I'm focusing on, that's what I'm dealing with."

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