Tory leadership hopeful Boris Johnson has attacked the Prime Minister over her Brexit negotiations with the Labour party, saying a customs union deal “cannot, must not and will not happen”.
Writing in his weekly Daily Telegraph column, the former foreign secretary said cutting a deal with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who has pushed for a customs union, would “make a total and utter nonsense of the referendum result”.
Johnson used his column, for which he is paid £275,000 a year, to voice the concerns of many Tory MPs who see the negotiations as paving the way to a softer Brexit. A customs union “would be the worst of both worlds, not just now, but forever,” Johnson said.
A customs union would mean Britain agreeing with European Union countries to have the same import duties as each other so as to achieve low-tariff trade and reduce administrative barriers. Many Brexiters argue that this would stop Britain striking trade deals with other countries, however, who may want different tariff rules.
Johnson said: “It would mean Slovakia or Lithuania – to say nothing of France or Germany – would have more say over UK trade policy than London.”
Johnson said Tory MPs will not allow “surrender” on the issue of a customs union.
The former mayor of London’s intervention came after May released a video on Sunday defending her talks with the Labour party, which were announced on 2 April as part of a new strategy to find consensus on Brexit.
She said getting a deal through the House of Commons, which has voted against her Brexit agreement three times, “means cross party talks” and “politicians working together”.
Johnson made a U-turn and voted for May’s Brexit agreement on 29 March after twice voting against it, following the Prime Minister’s pledge that she would resign and let someone else oversee the next stage of negotiations if the deal was passed.
It is not clear whether that offer still stands should May get her deal through with the help of the Labour party.
Also on Sunday cabinet minister Andrea Leadsom offered qualified support for her leader’s decision, saying that “even more unacceptable” than working with Labour “would be failing to deliver on the referendum because we are not willing to try”.
“Ultimately, both parties promised the public they would honour that straightforward choice between in or out, and we now have to do that,” Leadsom wrote in the Sunday Telegraph, the Telegraph’s sister newspaper.