LONDON: Britain’s Boris Johnson on Friday unveiled his vision for Brexit as he urged Prime Minister Theresa May to pursue a “Super Canada” trade deal, sparking renewed infighting among ruling Conservatives ahead of their annual party conference.
The former foreign secretary, who resigned from the government in July over the issue, described May’s current proposals for the future relationship with the EU as a “moral and intellectual humiliation”.
Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Johnson outlined a six-point alternative plan, that would scrap a backstop agreement struck with the European Union last December on the contentious Irish border.
He argued that adopting technology and making customs checks away from the frontier would prevent a return to a hard border — a sticking point in negotiations and a key factor in May’s proposal.
The ardent Brexiteer called for Britain and the EU instead to negotiate a free trade agreement — dubbed “Super Canada” — mirroring the deal the bloc signed with Ottawa in 2016.
It removed the vast majority of customs duties on exports crossing the Atlantic.
He conceded that negotiating such an agreement, which would aim for mutual recognition of standards to keep goods moving and also include services, may require extending any Brexit transition period beyond 2020.
“This is the moment to change the course of the negotiations and (to) do justice to the ambitions and potential of Brexit,” Johnson wrote in the 4,500-word article.
“We have the chance to get it right, and I am afraid that future generations will not lightly forgive us if we fail.”
His intervention ahead of the Conservative Party conference — where he will address a fringe event on Tuesday — prompted immediate Tory division.
“Shame he didn’t research the link between agreeing a solution that keeps the Irish border frictionless and the chances of agreeing withdrawal terms,” former cabinet minister Nicky Morgan wrote on Twitter. “Or does he just not care?”
In contrast, eurosceptic MP Bernard Jenkin called the plan “powerful” while Brexiteer colleague Nadine Dorries called Johnson “a man with a plan”.
The blueprint will increase pressure on embattled leader May as her divided party’s gathering starts Sunday under the shadow of Brexit.
She has proposed Britain follow EU rules in trade in goods after Brexit, to protect manufacturing supply lines and avoid the hard border between Northern Ireland, a British province, and EU member Ireland.
The plan, forged in July at May’s country retreat Chequers, has faced strong opposition in her Conservative party and criticism in Brussels, but she has repeatedly vowed to stick with it.
Johnson reiterated Friday the proposal was a “democratic disaster” that would “cheat the electorate” and leave Britain “half in, half out” of Europe.
Britain is set to leave the EU next March, with both sides agreeing that a provisional divorce deal, comprising assurances on the Irish border among other things, must be reached by mid-November.