Boris Johnson compares Brexit to the moon landings as Tory leadership voting closes

Posted On: 
22nd July 2019

Boris Johnson has insisted that a "sense of mission" akin to the 1969 moon landings can ensure Britain leaves the European Union on 31 October.

The Conservative frontrunner hit out at "technological pessimists".
Credit: 
PA

The frontrunner to succeed Theresa May as Prime Minister took a swipe at his "pessimist" Cabinet critics as he said the UK could leave the EU with a deal if it had the "will" and "drive" to make it happen.

His comments came ahead of the the postal ballot of Tory members closing at 5pm on Monday, with the winner declared at 11 o'clock on Tuesday morning.

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Either Mr Johnson or his rival Jeremy Hunt will then take over from Mrs May on Wednesday when she hands in her resignation to the Queen following her final Prime Minister's Questions clash with Jeremy Corbyn. 

Writing in the Telegraph ahead of the voting deadline, Mr Johnson said the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landings showed that Britain could solve the "technical and logistical" problem of avoiding a hard Irish border as it leaves the EU.

But Mr Johnson said: "I am afraid that there are technological pessimists - some of them apparently in London  who seem genuinely to think that such technical solutions are impossible, that they are a kind of logical contradiction, a mythological species that we will never see in this universe. Are they right? Of course not."

Mr Johnson added: "It is absurd that we have even allowed ourselves to be momentarily delayed by these technical issues. If they could use hand-knitted computer code to make a frictionless re-entry to the earth’s atmosphere in 1969, we can solve the problem of frictionless trade at the Northern Irish border. 

"There is no task so simple that government cannot overcomplicate if it doesn’t want to do it. And there are few tasks so complex that humanity cannot solve if we have a real sense of mission to pull them off."

The European Union has repeatedly insisted that it will not reopen talks on the Brexit withdrawal agreement despite longstanding Conservative Brexiteer opposition to the backstop plan to avoid friction at the Northern Ireland border.

Ireland's Foreign Minister Simon Coveney on Sunday doubled down on that position, teeling the BBC: “The EU... has made it very clear that we want to engage with a new British Prime Minister, we want to avoid a no-deal Brexit, but the solutions that have been put in place to do that haven’t changed and just because a new British Prime Minister says they have to change doesn’t mean that the EU collectively will respond to that by changing the approach of the next three years."

Mr Johnson's comments meanwhile came amid mounting opposition from the current Cabinet to his vow to leave the European with or without a deal on 31 October.

On Sunday Chancellor Philip Hammond made clear that, if Mr Johnson wins the race, he would resign from the Cabinet before the new Prime Minister had the chance to sack him.

He said: "I’m not going to be sacked because I’m going to resign before we get to that point, assuming that Boris Johnson becomes the next Prime Minister."

And Mr Hammond - who has vowed to oppose a no-deal Brexit as a Tory backbencher - added: "I understand that his conditions for serving in his Government would include accepting a no-deal exit on 31 October.

"That is not something I could ever sign up to. It's very important that a Prime Minister is able to have a Chancellor who is closely aligned with him in terms of policy and I therefore intend to resign to Theresa May before she goes to the palace to tender her own resignation on Wednesday."

That followed an identical pledge from Justice Secretary David Gauke, who said he could not sit on the frontbench while Mr Johnson pursued a no-deal Brexit.

“Given that I’ve been in the Cabinet since Theresa May came to power, I think the appropriate thing is for me to resign to her,” he wrote in The Sunday Times.