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Brexit speech: Boris Johnson refuses to rule out resignation – as it happened

Afternoon summary

The foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, delivered the first of series of planned speeches by cabinet ministers on Brexit. He called upon pro-leave figures to understand the concerns of those who wanted to remain in the EU. Johnson said he wanted to “reach out to those who still have anxieties”.

But, at least in Westminster, his call for unity largely fell on deaf ears. Leading remain supporters accused Johnson of hypocrisy, labelling him one of the most divisive figures of the Brexit campaign. Business leaders and trade unionists also reacted coolly to Johnson’s speech. (See 1.55pm)

Johnson’s speech may not have won him many friends on the other side of the fence but there was speculation they were not his real target anyway. His real audience was his cabinet colleagues, some said. Johnson sought to set out his vision for a post-Brexit UK, then - in a moment that will put senior government figures on notice - he declined to rule out resigning from the government if his fellow ministers did not back it. (See 11.53am)

The international development secretary, Penny Mordaunt, confirmed she was to meet police following the Oxfam sexual abuse allegations.

I’m going to close this live blog now. Thanks for reading.


Dover will face permanent traffic jams stretching 20 miles out from the port from March 2019 unless Theresa May agrees to the EU’s proposals for a Brexit transition period, the organisation representing the shipping industry and ports has said.

David Dingle, the chairman of Maritime UK, said lorry drivers could be stuck on the main approach roads to Dover for up to two days if there was no deal for a transition.

My colleague, Jessica Elgot, watched the foreign secretary deliver his “road to Brexit” speech this morning. Here’s her full report:

The reaction to Boris Johnson’s speech has been lukewarm at best from representatives of businesses and trade unions alike.

John Foster, the director of campaigns for the Confederation of British Industry, said businesses were committed to making Brexit a success but “evidence, not ideology, should guide the UK’s thinking on a close future relationship with the EU”.

Businesses aren’t looking for a bonfire of regulation - quite the opposite - our aerospace, automotive and chemical sectors, to name a few, all have highly integrated European supply chains that benefit from consistent regulation.

And securing alignment of data rules is vital to protect the thousands of innovative businesses that make up the UK’s 240 billion data economy.

The TUC’s general secretary, Frances O’Grady, said:

People have learned not to trust Boris Johnson.

Instead of calming the worries of working people, he fuelled fears that he believes essential workplace rights are ‘intolerable’.

When he says ‘regulatory divergence’ he means scrapping hard-won rights to paid holidays, equal pay and safety at work. And if that’s his vision, he’s never going to unite the nation behind it.

Antony Walker, the deputy chief executive of the technology industry body techUK, said:

We do not make the UK more attractive to the rest of the world by putting barriers in the way of trade with our biggest market.

Whilst there may be areas where the UK wants to diverge from EU rules in the future, these are likely to be limited as the gains from divergence would have to outweigh the very significant benefits of having alignment with our closest trading partner.


Keir Starmer, Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary, has responded to Johnson’s speech this afternoon, saying it was full of “empty rhetoric”.

This speech underlined the government’s real intentions; a Brexit of deregulation, where rights and protections are casually cast aside and where the benefits of the single market and the customs union are ignored.

Nobody will be fooled or reassured by the foreign secretary’s empty rhetoric. His insistence on deregulating our economy is the opposite of what businesses and trade unions want to hear.

Instead of building the consensus we need, the government’s approach will only further divide the country and put jobs, rights and living standards at risk.

Chuka Umunna, the Labour MP and leading Open Britain supporter, has dubbed the foreign secretary’s speech an “astonishing exercise in hypocrisy”.

His vision of Brexit may be many things, but it is not liberal.

His plan would see Britain sever trade ties with our largest trading partner, weaken protections for workers, consumers and the environment, and jeopardise the Good Friday agreement in Northern Ireland, a subject he didn’t even bother to mention.

The scaremongering, mistruths, lack of detail and utter disregard for the economic realities of Brexit were an alarming throwback to the referendum campaign. More than 18 months since the referendum, this was simply more of the same project fantasy.

He lectures others about betrayal, yet he is unrepentant about the lies he has peddled, be it on how Brexit will deliver £350m extra a week for the NHS, the ridiculous claim that Turkey was joining the European Union, or the assertion that Britain would immediately start negotiating new trade deals with countries around the world when there have been none.


The senior Tory MP, Sarah Wollaston, seems underwhelmed by Johnson’s speech.


In response to the foreign secretary’s speech, the Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesperson, Tom Brake, dismissed Boris Johnson as “completely deluded”.

This speech wasn’t about the most important issue facing our country right now, this was about Boris’ ambitions to become the next prime minister. And it probably wasn’t much help on that front either.

The lack of detail and understanding shown in this back of a fag packet speech would be astounding, if we didn’t already know that the government has no clue and no plan.

As ever, Boris managed to find time to practice a dead language but failed to tackle the live issues. We are still completely in the dark on the government’s plan to tackle issues such as the Northern Ireland border which are central to his brief as foreign secretary and crucial to the future of our nation.


That concludes the foreign secretary’s speech.

Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European commission, said it was “total nonsense” to claim that he wanted to build a European superstate. Some in the British political establishment were “pretending that I am a stupid stubborn federalist” he said when asked to respond to the Johnson speech.

I am strictly against a European superstate. We are not the United States of America, we are the European Union … the European Union cannot be built against European nations.


My colleague, Jessica Elgot, asks whether the foreign secretary feels some of remainers’ anger has been fuelled by his own government, which has referred to them as “saboteurs” and “citizens of nowhere”. Was that language a mistake? Johnson says:

I think the prime minister’s language, when I’ve heard her, has been always irenic and she understands the task we have; we have to bring people along with this project.

I accept that, this morning, I’m not going to bring along everybody, But I’ve got to try, I’ve got to make the effort. Because, in the end, these are people’s feelings and people’s feelings matter.

Johnson agrees Theresa May is “the cure” for “Brexchosis”; a term he coined in his speech.


Boris Johnson refuses to rule out resignation

The foreign secretary is asked by the Sun’s Tom Newton Dunn to guarantee he won’t resign this year if his cabinet colleagues diverge from his vision of Brexit. In response, he avoids the question, saying:

We’re all very lucky to serve and I’m certainly one of those.


Johnson is asked if he is the right person to reach out to remain supporters, given his own language towards them.

He says he believes his comments have been moderate throughout and the leave side needs to reach out. Johnson says he thinks his job is to engage with people, to find out their fears and to engage them.

Johnson is now taking questions. He is asked about “yet another speech” from a cabinet minister. Do people not have the right to ask: “where’s the clarity?”

He says the government has offered clarity in past speeches and must make the positive case for Brexit. Having apparently misheard the word ‘clarity’ as ‘carrots’, he segues on to farming.

Johnson warns against a second referendum, telling his audience:

I say in all candour that if there were to be a second vote I believe that we would simply have another year of wrangling and turmoil and feuding in which the whole country would lose.

So let’s not go there.

Johnson addresses the third concern he says pro-remain supporters express to him: fear of the economic impact.

Those figures reflect the broader story that the lion’s share of the growth is taking place outside the EU, and especially in the Asia-Pacific region.

Earlier, Johnson referred to immigration, saying: “We must remain a magnet for ambition and drive.”

We will be able to take back control of our borders – not because I am hostile to immigrants or immigration. Far from it. We need talented people to come and make their lives in this country – doctors, scientists, the coders and programmers who are so crucial to Britain’s booming tech economy.

But we also need to ask ourselves some hard questions about the impact of 20 years of uncontrolled immigration by low-skilled, low-wage workers – and what many see as the consequent suppression of wages and failure to invest properly in the skills of indigenous young people.

We do not want to haul up the drawbridge; and we certainly don’t want to deter the international students who make such a huge contribution to our HE economy, with 155,000 Chinese students alone.

Johnson has suggested most people in the UK have very little understanding of what the EU does - and how.

We now have arrangements of such complexity and obscurity that I ask even my most diehard of remainer friends if they can explain their Spitzenkandidaten process – which has genuinely delighted the MEPs as much as it has mystified the UK; or the exact relationship between the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights, justiciable in Luxembourg, and the European Convention on Human Rights whose court sits in Strasbourg.

How many in this room knows the answer to those questions, let alone the name of their Euro-MP?

He says at least most people, when they see him in the street, know what he does in their name.

If we wanted to find the person responsible for drafting the next phase of EU integration ... we wouldn’t know where to find them, let alone how to remove them from office.

That is why people voted Leave – not because they were hostile to European culture and civilisation, but because they wanted to take back control.

That is why it is so vital not to treat Brexit as a plague of boils or a murrain on our cattle, but as an opportunity, and above all as an economic opportunity.

Addressing the second concern, Johnson insists the UK will not become insular as a result of the Brexit vote.

The foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, delivers a speech on Brexit at the Polixy Exchange in central London. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls
The foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, delivers a speech on Brexit at the Polixy Exchange in central London. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls Photograph: Peter Nicholls/Reuters

Brexit is not “some V-sign from the cliffs of Dover”, he says. Instead, he says - quoting Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address - that it’s the expression of Britain’s desire for governance “of the people by the people for the people”.


Johnson says to those who “worry about our strategic position” and the risks to national security:

Our commitment to the defence of Europe is unconditional and immovable.

He adds that the UK is a major contributor to Europe and will remain so. That is not dependent on EU treaties, he says.

Johnson says there are three main branches to the opposition to Brexit:

  1. A geo-strategic concern that Britain is a relatively small nation that has made a mistake in choosing to leave such a major international alliance
  2. A spiritual and aesthetic concern; that people feel we have pulled up a drawbridge
  3. An economic fear that Britain will be worse off outside the EU

Johnson says Brexit “need not be nationalist, but can be internationalist” and seeks to allay those three concerns. He acknowledges that he “runs the risk of causing further irritation” in making such an argument, but that it is a risk he must run.

The foreign secretary says the pro-leave supporters must not leave behind those who want to remain, saying that is what had happened in reverse after the UK first decided to join the EU.

It is not good enough for us to say to remainers: ‘you lost, get over it’.


Opening his speech, Boris Johnson says he recently spoke to a constituent who was thinking of leaving the UK for Canada over the Brexit vote.

He says that, in some cases, people are coming around. In others, the anti-Brexit feeling is hardening.


Boris Johnson has arrived and is about to deliver his speech.


We’re expecting Boris Johnson to start his speech - the first in a series of “road to Brexit” addresses to be given by government ministers - in a few moments.

We will, of course, bring updates as he speaks. But anyone wanting a preview would be well advised to start here:

You’ll also be able to watch it live at the top of this blog.


There’s been some reaction on the continent to the reports around Boris Johnson’s speech, in which he plans to set out the liberal argument for Brexit. Guy Verhofstadt, the European parliament’s Brexit coordinator, has tweeted:


Mordaunt refers to the UN’s recent admission that “there were 300 incidents of sexual exploitation and abuse, including child rape, carried out by UN peacekeepers and civilian staff in 2016”.

We will step up our existing work with the UN secretary general to stop abuses under the UN flag. There will be no immunity for rape and sexual abuse and I welcome the recent statement from the UN to that effect and note the work that Unicef has done.

We cannot let the UN flag provide cover for despiable acts.

My department and the UK Charity Commission will hold, within a month, a safeguarding summit, where we will meet with representatives across the aid sector and discuss new ways of vetting and recruiting staff to ensure protecting vulnerable people is at the forefront of our minds.

This past week has to be a wakeup call. We don’t want the actions of a minority of individuals to tarnish and endanger all the good work we do, then we must all respond quickly and appropriately. We must regain the trust of the public, we must make staff aware of their moral responsibilities - as well as their legal duties. But, above all else, we must strive to ensure that no child, no one is harmed by the people who are supposed to be there to help.

In the secretary general’s report in February 2017, the UN said there were 145 allegations of sexual abuse in 2016, which were “associated with at least 311 known victims”. All but two were women and girls, the report said, adding that “there may be more”.


Mordaunt to meet police after Oxfam allegations

The international development secretary, Penny Mordaunt, confirms she will meet with police to discuss the Oxfam scandal.

I’ve held meetings with charity bosses, regulators and experts over the last few days and, tomorrow, I will be meeting with the National Crime Agency.

While investigations have to be completed and any potential criminals prosecuted accordingly, what is clear is that the culture that allowed this to happen needs to change and it needs to change now.

The international development secretary went on to say that any charities that do not meet the government’s standards will have their public funding stopped.

She says the government will seek to stop sexual abusers moving between aid organisations, including the possibility of setting up a global register of development workers.


Some more on Mordaunt’s comments. She has told the summit:

The sexual exploitation of vulnerable people - vulnerable children - is never acceptable. But, when it is perpetrated by people in positions of power - people we entrust to help and protect - it rightly sickens and disgusts and it should compel us to take action.

The recent revelations about Oxfam, not solely the actions perpetrated by a number of those staff, but the way the organisation responded to those events, should be a wakeup call to the sector.

They let perpetrators go, they did not inform donors, their regulator or prosecuting authorities. It was not just the processes and procedures of that organisation that were lacking, but moral leadership.

We cannot end violence against children unless ‘zero tolerance’ means something. I will be guided in my decisions about Oxfam depending on the charity’s response to requirements and questions I have raised with them and by the Charity Commission’s investigation.

But no organisation is too big, or our work with them too complex, for me to hesitate to remove funding from them if we cannot trust them to put the beneficiaries of aid first.

The international development secretary, Penny Mordaunt, is delivering a speech to a Stockholm summit on child protection. She is addressing the Oxfam scandal, repeating her belief that the charity did not just lack safeguarding procedures, it also lacked moral leadership.

The Tory MEP, Daniel Hannan, who was a founding member of Vote Leave, has said Boris Johnson is aiming his speech at those who feel “alienated and angry” about the EU referendum result. Speaking to Radio 4’s Today programme, he said:

[Johnson] knows that a number of people feel kind of alienated and angry about the result and that’s not something that any leaver should feel good about.

We want to try and carry as many people with us, it was a narrow outcome, it was a 48/52 vote that means we should try and find a consensus that both sides can at least live with.

He was one of the, arguably the chief figure in Vote Leave. I’d have thought if there is a task of reconciliation he’s the person to undertake it.

Labour’s former home secretary, Yvette Cooper, has been discussing Boris Johnson’s forthcoming speech, dismissing the foreign secretary as unworthy of the public’s trust. She has told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme:

To be honest, given everything he said about that bus, I don’t really see why we’re taking him seriously at all.

Cooper characterises Johnson’s speech as emblematic of the government’s approach to Brexit, which she says has lacked detail.

The problem with that is, from the point of view of a committee chair, we’ve got this speech being made which doesn’t seem to set out any detail. The government cannot keep kicking the can down the road, we’ve got to actually have some practical details on it.


Some more detail on those comments this morning from the defence secretary, Gavin Williamson, who was addressing the fates of two men accused of leaving Britain to fight with the Islamic State group. He told reporters:

They turned their back on Britain when they left Britain to cause the destruction and commit their hateful crimes. We believe that justice should be done locally and they’re no longer part of Britain, the British people do not want to see them returned.

The UK and US governments are at odds over what to do with Kotey and Elsheikh, who were captured by Kurdish militia and are accused of being part of an Islamic State team that murdered captives.

The US’ defence secretary, Jim Mattis, believes Isis fighters should be returned to their countries of origin to stand trial. It has been reported that each has been stripped of his British citizenship and rendered stateless, through the UK government has not officially confirmed that.

Johnson: reversal of Brexit would lead to permanent feeling of betrayal

The foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, will deliver the first of the planned “road to Brexit” series of speeches by government ministers at 11am, in which he will warn that reversing the 2016 referendum would be a “disastrous mistake” and insist that leaving the European Union is “not grounds for fear, but hope”.

However, the Pro-Brexit Labour MP, Chuka Umunna, accused Johnson of hypocrisy; saying it was he who notably engaged in “disgraceful scaremongering with his ridiculous assertion that Turkey was on the verge of joining the EU” during the campaign in 2016.

Johnson will deliver his stark warning to those he fears are “becoming ever more determined to stop Brexit”. But he will seek to alloy it with one for leave-supporting ministers; saying they cannot simply dismiss remainers’ fears, which are motivated by “entirely noble sentiments”.

The story made the front of this morning’s Daily Telegraph and I paper:

Johnson’s speech will be delivered at the same time as Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission president, holds a press conference after today’s meeting of the college of commissioners.

Government criticised over Brexit immigration policy delays

The lack of clarity on Britain’s post-Brexit immigration policy is causing anxiety for EU citizens and uncertainty for UK business, according to a cross-party parliamentary report.

Mordaunt to pledge child protection money

The international development secretary, Penny Mordaunt, is due to speak at a child protection summit in Stockholm at 8.30am. Following the Oxfam abuse scandal, she is expected to pledge £5m of government funding to help protect the vulnerable across the globe.

Last night, the actor Minnie Driver became the first celebrity to quit as an Oxfam ambassador following the allegations.

The Daily Mail splashed on the story this morning:

‘Lack of trust’ in government’s welfare decisions

There is a “pervasive lack of trust” among disabled people in the method of assessing their welfare claims risks undermining the operation of the government’s flagship benefits, MPs warn.

Labour proposes foie gras ban

Exporting animals for slaughter, an end to the badger cull and expanding affordable vet care for pet owners on low incomes are among the animal welfare measures put forward for consideration by Labour. The party will launch the proposals at 12.45pm.

This article titled "Brexit speech: Boris Johnson refuses to rule out resignation – as it happened" was written by Kevin Rawlinson, for on Wednesday 14 February 2018 03.12pm


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