Boris Johnson accuses Remainer MPs and Brussels of ‘terrible kind of collaboration’ to block Brexit
BORIS Johnson has accused Remainer MPs and Brussels of engaging in a “terrible kind of collaboration” to block Brexit as he talked up Scotland’s membership of the United Kingdom in his new self-styled role as “Minister for the Union”.
The Prime Minister, in his first People’s PMQs broadcast on Facebook from his desk in Downing St, suggested that the EU was not willing to compromise because it believed MPs could still block Britain’s departure, which, he argued, made a no-deal exit more likely.
Asked how he could deliver this pledge to realise Brexit given the lack of movement from the EU and opposition from MPs at Westminster, Mr Johnson replied: “There’s a terrible kind of collaboration, as it were, going on between people who think they can block Brexit in Parliament and our European friends.
“And our European friends are not moving in their willingness to compromise; they’re not compromising at all on the Withdrawal Agreement even though it’s been thrown out three times, they’re sticking to every letter, every comma of the Withdrawal Agreement – including the backstop – because they still think Brexit can be blocked in Parliament.”
The PM went on: “The awful thing is the longer that goes on, the more likely it is, of course, that we will be forced to leave with a no-deal Brexit.
“That’s not what I want, it’s not what we’re aiming for but we need our European friends to compromise.
“The more they think there’s a chance that Brexit can be blocked in Parliament, the more adamant they are in sticking to their position,” he explained.
Mr Johnson said he remained “confident we will get there” and that the UK would leave the EU on October 31, adding: “In the end both our friends in other European capitals and MPs will see it’s vital to get on and to do it.”
In response to Micky, a Scottish farmer, who asked what he would do to protect the Union, the PM said: “There are lots of things we should be doing but one, as Minister for the Union, which is very important, is to stress the benefits that flow to us all from the Union.
“I was absolutely bowled over in Scotland recently to see investments flowing in…I went up to the nuclear submarine base at Faslane and also, of course, to the shipbuilding yard at Govan. I saw thousands of jobs, high-class, high-skill, wonderful jobs in Scotland that are directly created as a result of investments from the whole of the UK; therefore, showing how Scotland in particular benefits from participation in the most successful political union in the last few centuries.
“It’s very important as Prime Minister and Minister for the Union that I talk up those successes whether they are in science, R&D or education and all the investments that flow to Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland, England as part of the Union; so, that’s one of things we’re going to be doing.”
Mr Johnson also covered a range of other topics, including rural devolution, knife crime and ended by naming Pericles of Athens as his political hero.
It is unclear if this will become a weekly fixture. In advance of the broadcast, one Downing Street aide said: “Let’s, erm, see how this one goes.”
The PM’s appearance on social media followed the first major intervention from Philip Hammond since he quit as Chancellor when he argued that a no-deal Brexit would be “as much a betrayal” of the 2016 referendum as not leaving at all.
He added it could cause “irreparable damage” to the Union of the UK and hit out at “those who are pulling the strings in Downing Street, those who are setting the strategy”; while no names were mentioned it is believed he was referring to Dominic Cummings, the former Leave campaign chief, who is now Mr Johnson’s key Downing St adviser.
Mr Hammond also warned that trying to “bypass Parliament” to force through a no-deal Brexit would “provoke a constitutional crisis”.
But his intervention was rebuffed by Iain Duncan Smith, the former party leader and leading Brexiteer, who accused the former Chancellor of perpetrating a “political crime” by not adequately preparing for a no-deal Brexit when he was in charge of the Treasury.
In Brussels, Vanessa Mock, a European Commission spokeswoman, said the EU’s “doors are open” to discuss matters with the UK although any “concrete proposals” should be “compatible” with the Withdrawal Agreement.
She told a media briefing: “We’re ready to analyse any concrete proposals that are compatible with the Withdrawal Agreement and also ready to rework the future relationship as outlined in the Political Declaration. The UK knows well that our doors remain open to that effect.
“But for the talks to progress the UK Government needs to explain its ideas on how it sees the way forward, respecting the commitments it took earlier in these negotiations.”
Asked if the refusal to renegotiate the Withdrawal Agreement also stood for any future British government, such as a Labour administration, Ms Mock replied: “Our doors are open to discuss with the UK authorities; I never said anything about refusal. But I won’t go beyond what I said.”
Elsewhere, Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, said the Government has issued an “invitation to tender” for £300 million of freight to make sure supplies could reach the UK after Brexit.
He pointed out he would be attending the Exit Operations Committee in the Cabinet Office to “plan the detail to make sure that when we do leave, which we will do on October 31, it is as smooth as it possibly can be”. The so-called XO committee, chaired by Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office Minister, meets daily to organise Britain’s no-deal preparations.