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EXCL Top Tory accuses Boris Johnson of trying to undermine party conference with 'pie in the sky' Brexit plan

EXCL Top Tory accuses Boris Johnson of trying to undermine party conference with 'pie in the sky' Brexit plan
5 min read

Boris Johnson has been accused of an "absolutely deliberate" attempt to undermine Theresa May ahead of Conservative party conference, as he unveiled his own vision of Brexit.


Nicky Morgan - the former education secretary who now chairs Parliament's powerful Treasury committee - told PoliticsHome Mr Johnson's call for a "Super Canada" trade deal with the EU was "pie in the sky", and savaged his demand that talks with the EU on the Northern Ireland border issue be pushed back.

Mr Johnson - who quit the Cabinet in July over Theresa May's Chequers plan - used a 4,600 word column in The Telegraph to tear chunks out of the Prime Minister's proposals, branding them "the worst of both worlds".

"They are a moral and intellectual humiliation for this country," he fumed. "It is almost incredible that after two years this should be the opening bid of the British government."

He urged the Prime Minister to seek a fresh draft withdrawal agreement with the EU and called for talks on the hot-button issue of keeping the Northern Ireland border open to be thrashed out in the second phase of negotiations with Brussels.

But Ms Morgan, who campaigned for Remain in the 2016 EU referendum, said of Mr Johnson's eve-of-conference blast: "It’s absolutely deliberate."

She added: "This is a repeat of exactly what happened this time last year year after the Florence speech where Boris delivered another long essay - although he was foreign secretary then - on Brexit.

"At least this year he has accepted that he cannot remain a part of government and do this.

"He's now a backbencher, so he’s perfectly entitled to his views.

"But he knows how important the party conference is to the Prime Minister, to the party, and it’s obviously designed to make it clear that, yet again, we will be talking as much about Boris as we will about the Conservative programme for government next week."

EU 'WOULD NOT GO FOR' NORTHERN IRELAND DELAY

Mr Johnson - long rumoured to be eyeing Mrs May's job - used his Telegraph piece to try and counter criticisms that Brexiteers have yet to come up with a workable solution to keep the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland open.

But Ms Morgan rejected Mr Johnson's "pie in the sky" bid to solve the issue by shifting it into talks on Britain's future economic ties with the bloc, rather than the impending withdrawal agreement.

"It’s clear the EU absolutely would not go for that," she said.

"The Irish government would not go for that. And it’s only possible to get agreement on Brexit - on the terms of our withdrawal - if you’ve got all 27 countries voting in favour of that. It goes to the heart of the cavalier approach that Boris and the other Brexiteers have about all of this."

The Tory backbencher added: "The border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland is the one land border that we will potentially have with members of the EU when we’re not a member state.

"To say that 'oh well, it’s all in the too-difficult box and therefore let’s kick it into the long grass' is to fundamentally misunderstand what needs to be agreed in order to make Brexit work and realistic.

"And actually, it goes back to the heart of his ‘f**k business’ comments. Businesses and people are crossing the Northern Irish border every day. They need a solution to make their lives and their businesses work."

Mr Johnson raised eyebrows over the summer amid reports he had launched the tirade against businesses warning about Brexit.

CANADA 'TOOK SEVEN YEARS'

The ex-foreign secretary also used his Telegraph column to make the case for what he dubbed a "Super Canada" free trade agreement with the EU, modelled on the existing CETA deal that the EU has with Canada.

Support for such a model is said to be growing in Mrs May's Cabinet following a bruising summit between the Prime Minister and EU leaders in Salzburg.

Mr Johnson said: "It is only by following this approach that we will be able once again to be independent economic actors, able to campaign for global free trade that has lifted so many billions out of poverty, and to do free trade deals ourselves."

But Ms Morgan - who is instead pushing for the UK to try and join the European Economic Area - rubbished those proposals.

She told PoliticsHome: "It took seven years to negotiate Canada. It would be the first trade agreement where actually we were introducing more barriers between the two parties rather than knocking them out.

"And he doesn’t seem to quite understand that in order to have a transition period which comes through a withdrawal period you’ve got to agree the issues around the Northern Ireland border - or, at least, have a temporary solution. He seems to be supremely relaxed about sorting the Northern Ireland border issue.

"It raises as many questions as it answers. I don’t think it ultimately takes things forward constructively before the Conservative Party conference - and I don’t think that’s what Boris wanted."

Mr Johnson's latest intervention earned plaudits from a string of Tory Brexiteers, however.

Former Brexit minister Steve Baker - who helps coordinate rebellious Eurosceptics on the Tory benches - called it a "brilliant, pivotal article".

Fellow Brexiteer MP Andrea Jenykns meanwhile hailed it as a "fantastic" article by a man "who truly believes in Britain", while Conservative Marcus Fysh praised it as the "way forward".

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