Boris Johnson's Valentine's Day Brexit speech: Think of global standards, not EU ones

Catherine Neilan
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Boris' Valentine's Day speech will urge Remainers and Leavers to feel the love (Source: Getty)

Boris Johnson has told businesses to think "not of EU standards, but global ones" in his major speech on Brexit this morning, as he urged Remainers and Leavers to unite and "get on and do it".

Speaking in London, the foreign secretary set out his vision of a path for an outward-facing, liberal, and global Britain following our exit from the EU. He also made his argument for regulatory divergence from the EU, as reported earlier this week by City A.M, reiterating his previous arguments for "taking back control".

"It's all about who decides," he said. "When it comes to EU standards for washing machines or hairdryers or whatever, it may make sense for us to remain in alignment as a matter of choice, as something we elect to do.

"But I don't think we should commit as a matter of treaty that for ever and a day we should be forever locked in permanent congruence with the EU."

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Johnson said there may be "good environmental arguments" against changing rules on certain products but added that "when we are not around the table" we should not have laws imposed on us.

"We would be mad to go through this process of extraction and not take advantage of what it brings," he added, stressing that the "Brexit levers" could help shift our economy from low-productivity and low wage to high productivity and high wage.

On freedom of movement, he said there was "a case to be made" for certain professions to continue to have easy access to the UK, but appeared to dismiss concerns by some in the hospitality profession when he questioned whether that would apply to "low skilled, low wage" workers.

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Johnson called on those determined to stop Brexit "and to frustrate the will of the people" to look forward to the opportunities of a post-Brexit Britain instead. He talked up the rapid growth outside of the EU, particularly in Asia Pacific, and the vast numbers of people travelling to countries in the rest of the world.

He said: "If we get the right deal on aviation, this expansion of UK tourism will continue... [Brexit] is not about shutting ourselves off, it's about going global."

"I believe [reversing the referendum] would be a disastrous mistake that would lead to permanent and ineradicable feelings of betrayal," he said. "We cannot and will not let it happen."

Johnson urged pro-Leavers to work with those on the other side to make a success of Brexit.

“It is not good enough to say to Remainers – you lost, get over it; because we must accept that many are actuated by entirely noble sentiments, a real sense of solidarity with our European neighbours and a desire for the UK to succeed.”

But Remainers including Chuka Umunna, Caroline Lucas, Frances O’Grady have already rejected his overtures as hypocritical.

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Umunna said: "Boris Johnson is totally unqualified to preach about the perils of fear and betrayal when he engaged in disgraceful scaremongering with his ridiculous assertion that Turkey was on the verge of joining the EU and he has already betrayed millions of people by going back on his pledge to secure £350m extra per week for the NHS. This is hypocrisy of the highest order.

“He has so far failed to explain why he is campaigning in Cabinet to take the UK out of the Customs Union when there is no other solution to the Irish border issue and it will jeopardise the Good Friday Agreement settlement. He has failed to explain why the government has failed to start negotiating new trade deals when the campaign he led promised we would do so immediately after the Leave vote.

“Boris Johnson needs to come clean and concede that we cannot have our cake and eat it when leaving the EU. His speech is on Valentine’s Day, not April Fool’s Day.”

O'Grady added: “A Boris Brexit would mean Brexile. Britain would be locked-out of frictionless trade with Europe. And it would put at risk millions of jobs connected to EU trade.

“Boris is planning to take liberties with our rights at work. His demand for divergence is all about scrapping hard-won rights to paid holidays, equal pay and safety at work.

“We need a Brexit that protects jobs and guarantees workers’ rights. The best option we currently see is through the single market and customs union. They must be kept on the negotiating table.”

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