Boris Johnson has again spoken out on Theresa May’s Brexit plan, indicating he could support the deal he has long campaigned against if the Prime Minister is able to achieve only very limited change to the text of the deal.
The deal garnered significant controversy because of a provision known as the Northern Irish backstop, with Brexiteers insisting a no-deal, full Brexit from the EU would be preferable to a Theresa May deal with that provision. Rather than insisting it is removed altogether, however, former foreign secretary and two-time London mayor Johnson said Monday he could support the Prime Minister if she was able to get the EU to agree to a time limit or other exit mechanism for the backstop.
Presently, the legal advice of Attorney General Geoffrey Cox is that the United Kingdom has no unilateral right to withdraw from the Brexit deal without permission of the European Union — potentially locking the United Kingdom in whole or part in the Customs Union and other EU devices indefinitely.
Britain’s The Times newspaper reports Johnson’s comments will “irritate” other Brexiteers who have stuck to their guns on Theresa May’s negotiated exit from the European Union, which critics say will hardly take the United Kingdom out of the power bloc — if at all.
Brexit: Theresa May Begging MPs for More Time to Amend Her ‘Deal’ https://t.co/jeN876U2EX
— Breitbart London (@BreitbartLondon) February 10, 2019
Speaking to BBC radio Monday morning, Johnson said: “The argument is now about how to get out of the backstop. And how to make sure that the UK isn’t locked in that prison of the customs union… I think that some of the ideas that the prime minister has mentioned in the House of Commons do seem sensible. I think you would need to have a time limit.
“I think that I would want to look very carefully at what is being proposed, and it would have to give the United Kingdom a UK-sized exit from the backstop.
“We would have to be able to get out by a certain time and we would have to be able to get out of our own volition.”
His support aside — offered for the second time in as many weeks to the embattled Prime Minister — may come to nothing, given Johnson’s requirements for support remain an option that European Union bosses claim would be totally unacceptable to them. Johnson told the BBC it wouldn’t be good enough to have the backstop limitation in a separate “codicil”, implying that it would have to be written into the Brexit agreement itself instead.
EU Undermines UK Govt by Telling May It Prefers Jeremy Corbyn’s Brexit Plan https://t.co/RJw0IWdc44
— Breitbart London (@BreitbartLondon) February 8, 2019
Yet top Eurocrats and MEPs working to either facilitate or hamper Brexit, depending on perspective, have lined up to assert that any such change would be impossible. The Prime Minister left what was promised to be key Brexit talks last week empty-handed after her pleas to reopen the text of the agreement to insert changes was outright rejected.
Among those who refused to work with their British counterparts to create an agreement agreeable to all parties was European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who said even before May arrived in Brussels that: “She knows that the Commission is not prepared to reopen the issue.”
EU colleague Guy Verhofstadt made similar remarks, stating: “The withdrawal agreement is fair and cannot be replaced.”
Johnson’s conciliatory comments come despite months of attacks on May’s Brexit plan, which he has characterised as a “total surrender” to the European Union, which allowed the bloc to “bully and blackmail” the UK to get “whatever it wants in the future negotiations.”
Johnson was calling for a full Brexit on World Trade Organisation rules — often called a ‘no deal’ or ‘hard’ Brexit by the mainstream media — as recently last month. Attacking May’s deal in a newspaper column, Johnson wrote in January: “This deal would still make it impossible to do big free trade deals… it still means that we are set to hand over £39 billion for nothing.”