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Johnson attacks 'humiliating' Chequers plan

October 2, 2018

Boris Johnson has spoken at the sidelines of the Conservative Party Conference to denounce Prime Minister Theresa May's handling of the Brexit negotiations. He described May's Chequers plan as "dangerous and unstable."

Boris Johnson speech on sidelines of Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham
Image: Reuters/T. Melville

Former UK Foreign Secretary and leading Brexiteer Boris Johnson was greeted by huge applause when he demanded that Conservative Party activists "chuck Chequers," referring to Prime Minister Theresa May's proposed EU withdrawal plan.

Speaking at an event coinciding with the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham, Johnson dismissed May's plan as a humiliation, saying it would leave the UK under the European Union's sway for generations to come.

"It would mean that UK business and industry, our entire economy, would be exposed perpetually to regulations that might have been expressly designed at the behest of foreign competitors to do them down," he said. "It is dangerous and unstable — politically and economically."

Johnson went on to call for a completely clean break between London and Brussels. According to Johnson, that would mean leaving the bloc without a transition period until 2020, without the proposed Northern Ireland backstop agreement and on the basis of a free trade agreement akin to that which the EU currently has with Canada.

Anything less would be a betrayal of the 2016 referendum, Johnson said, also arguing that it would serve the far left in the form of opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. "If we cheat the electorate, and Chequers is a cheat, we will escalate that sense of mistrust," he said. "If we get it wrong, if we bottle Brexit now, believe me, the people of this country will find it hard to forgive."

Corbyn and Labour also came in for hefty criticism during Johnson's speech.

Johnson has been touted as the favorite to eventually replace May as prime minister. His speech will increase pressure on May's Brexit plans, just six months before UK's scheduled exit from the EU.

Read more: Opinion: Brexit — #Brexcrement horrors and howlers

Several EU officials, including European Council President Donald Tusk and the bloc's Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, have also dismissed the Chequers proposal as unworkable in its current form. May's plan seeks to establish a free-trade area for goods and agricultural products, keeping those sectors under EU single market rules, while taking Britain out of the single market for services, which accounts for around 80 percent of its economy.

In a BBC interview, May criticized Johnson's attack on her Brexit proposal. "There are one or two things that Boris said that I am cross about," May told the BBC. The only concrete example she went on to give was the potential impact of a "no-deal Brexit" on Northern Ireland. May is slated to address the Tory Party Conference on Wednesday.

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dm/msh (Reuters, AP)