Jo Johnson quits Government over likely “out of Europe, yet run by Europe” Brexit deal

Jo Johnson quits Government over likely “out of Europe, yet run by Europe” Brexit deal

The Government has been rocked this afternoon by a resignation over Brexit policy from a minister who has concluded that the likely deal to be struck by the Government will “leave us trapped in a subordinate relationship to the EU with no say over the rules that will govern huge swathes of our economy”.

But the minister in question is not a Brexiteer, but Remain-backing Transport Minister Jo Johnson, whose resignation reminds us that there is discontent at the Government’s position from all swathes of opinion on the Tory benches both inside and outside the Government.

In his resignation blog post this afternoon he wrote that the Government’s proposals would leave the UK “out of Europe, yet run by Europe” – a line I first heard used by his brother Boris Johnson’s former parliamentary private secretary, Conor Burns, in his speech at the BrexitCentral rally at this year’s Conservative conference. 

Johnson wrote in his blog post:

“While we wait to negotiate trading terms, the rules of the game will be set solely by the EU. Britain will lose its seat at the table and its ability to amend or vote down rules it opposes. Instead of Britain “taking back control”, we will cede control to other European countries. This democratic deficit inherent in the Prime Minister’s proposal is a travesty of Brexit. When we were told Brexit meant taking back powers for Parliament, no one told my constituents this meant the French parliament and the German parliament, not our own. In these circumstances, we must ask what we are achieving. William Hague once described the goal of Conservative policy as being “in Europe, but not run by Europe”. The government’s proposals will see us out of Europe, yet run by Europe, bound by rules which we will have lost a hand in shaping.

“Worse still, there is no real clarity about how this situation will ever end. The proposed Withdrawal Agreement parks many of the biggest issues about our future relationship with Europe into a boundless transitionary period. This is a con on the British people: there is no evidence that the kind of Brexit that we’ve failed to negotiate while we are still members can be magically agreed once the UK has lost its seat at the table. The leverage we have as a full member of the EU will have gone. We will be in a far worse negotiating position than we are today. And we will have still failed to resolve the fundamental questions that are ramping up uncertainties for businesses and stopping them investing for the future.

“My brother Boris, who led the leave campaign, is as unhappy with the Government’s proposals as I am. Indeed he recently observed that the proposed arrangements were “substantially worse than staying in the EU”. On that he is unquestionably right. If these negotiations have achieved little else, they have at least united us in fraternal dismay.”

Johnson has pledged to vote against legislation enacting the Withdrawal Agreement, but in his resignation blog he also signalled his desire now for another referendum:

“It is now my intention to vote against this Withdrawal Agreement. I reject this false choice between the PM’s deal and “no deal” chaos. On this most crucial of questions, I believe it is entirely right to go back to the people and ask them to confirm their decision to leave the EU and, if they choose to do that, to give them the final say on whether we leave with the Prime Minister’s deal or without it.”

It is not clear whether he envisages one referendum with two questions or an initial vote to confirm the June 2o16 decision and then another on the deal. However, time constraints over the passing of legislation and the rules surrounding the running of referendums make it impossible for the holding of any such referendum before the UK leaves the EU on 29th March 2o19.

A Downing Street spokesman responded by saying:

“The referendum in 2016 was the biggest democratic exercise in this country’s history. We will not under any circumstances have a second referendum.”

The June 2016 referendum took place because the 2015 Conservative manifesto promised to:

“hold that in-out referendum before the end of 2017 and respect the outcome. We will honour the result of the referendum, whatever the outcome.”

As Guido Fawkes points out, the lead author of that manifesto was one Jo Johnson.