1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

UK's Johnson warns of 'Brexit meltdown'

June 8, 2018

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has been caught on tape warning that Brexit talks could go into "meltdown." He also expressed his growing admiration for US President Donald Trump.

Boris Johnson in London
Image: Reuters/H. McKay

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has indicated that he expects talks over Britain's departure from the European Unioncould spiral out of control, according to a secret tape leaked to BuzzFeed News.

"I think [Prime Minister] Theresa [May] is going to go into a phase where we are much more combative with Brussels," he was recorded saying to Conservative activists at a dinner. "You've got to face the fact there may now be a meltdown. OK? I don't want anyone to panic during the meltdown. No panic. Pro bono publico, no bloody panic. It's all going to be all right in the end."

Read more: 'Armageddon' Brexit: 'No deal' scenario could hit fuel and food

Trump fandom

Johnson speculated that US President Donald Trump would take a much more aggressive approach to negotiations than the UK has been doing, saying that he was "increasingly admiring" of the US leader.

"He'd go in bloody hard ... there'd be all sorts of breakdowns, all sorts of chaos," he said. "Everyone would think he'd gone mad. But actually, you might get somewhere."

Johnson, who is an adamant supporter of Britain's exit from the EU, also said divisions in the government would not prevent Brexit, but that the procedure might not proceed as London hopes.

He said the establishment wanted a Brexit that changed as little as possible, which could carry the risk "that you will end up in an anteroom of the EU, locked in orbit around the EU."

Read more: What role did Cambridge Analytica play in the Brexit vote?

Irish border: no problem

Johnson also played down what many see as one of the major stumbling blocks in Brexit negotiations: the question of whether new checks will be put in place on the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, an EU member.

Johnson says there will be no hard Irish border

"It's so small and there are so few firms that actually use that border regularly. ... We're allowing the whole of our agenda to be dictated by this folly," he said.

The comments, made on Wednesday, were released on Thursday by BuzzFeed just hours after ministers reached a compromise on a backstop plan for the Irish border. The plan foresees the border remaining aligned with EU customs rules until a permanent new trade deal avoiding a physical border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland is negotiated.

EU officials have so far been skeptical about the plan.

May 'still has confidence' in Johnson

Johnson's remarks are likely to embarrass May, who is endeavoring to present her government as assertive and in control during the difficult negotiations. 

After his comments were made public, a spokeswoman for the prime minister said on Friday only that May believed "that her Cabinet and her government are working hard to deliver on the will of the people and working hard to take back control of our money, laws and our borders."

Asked whether May had confidence in Johnson, she replied, "Of course."

Read moreBrexit Diaries 30: Trade wars in the age of Brexit 

tj/sms (AFP, Reuters)

Each evening at 1830 UTC, DW's editors send out a selection of the day's hard news and quality feature journalism. You can sign up to receive it directly here.