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Brexit Bulletin: Boris Attack

Boris Johnson Calls Theresa May's Post-Brexit Plan "Crazy"

325 Days to Go

Today in Brexit: Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson attacks Theresa May’s customs plan as crazy, as the House of Lords reminds her she doesn’t have the final say on Brexit.

Boris Johnson has openly criticized as “crazy” the trade policy his boss is fighting to keep alive, upping the stakes in the Cabinet battle over what kind of Brexit Britain wants.

Prime Minister Theresa May’s customs proposal – a complicated plan that would keep the U.K. closer to the European Union than Brexit backers would like – was rejected by most of her Cabinet last week and euroskeptics declared it dead. But May needs it to survive as her team sees it as the only way to deliver the Brexit she has promised. The alternative would be a messy no-deal split or staying in the EU’s customs union – a breach of her word that would probably prompt a leadership challenge.

Theresa May and Boris Johnson.
Photographer: Leon Neal/Getty Images

Johnson said in an interview with the Daily Mail that May’s plan was “totally untried” and a “crazy system” for organizing customs and borders after the divorce. It’s “not taking back control of your trade policy, it’s not taking back control of your laws, it’s not taking back control of your borders and it’s actually not taking back control of your money either,” he said.

Meanwhile, arch-Brexiter Jacob Rees-Mogg, who commands about 60 euroskeptic lawmakers, hinted in a Telegraph interview that Sajid Javid, the new pro-Brexit Home Secretary who helped tip the balance of views in May’s inner Brexit cabinet last week, would make a great future leader. While endorsing May’s negotiations so far, and saying there’s no appetite for a change at the top, he also raised the prospect of Johnson taking over.

The trouble for May is that she can’t give into the Brexiters even if she wanted to. The parliamentary arithmetic backs closer EU ties and May will have to get any final deal through Parliament. There’s an amendment awaiting debate in the House of Commons that would force May to try to stay in the EU’s existing customs union and there’s enough support for it to get through.

May faces another defeat at the hands of Parliament in the unelected House of Lords on Tuesday. Amending her key Brexit legislation, peers are expected to vote to remove the fixed timing of Brexit day on March 29 next year. Anti-Brexit lawmakers want this as it gives them more time to find a way out, and gives Parliament more tools to avoid the much feared no-deal divorce. The Lords have already inflicted 10 defeats on May and at least some of their amendments are likely to survive when the legislation heads back to the elected lower house for another round of voting.

If you’re losing track of May’s battle with Parliament, we’ve pulled it all together here.

Today’s Must-Reads

Brexit in Brief

Speaking Out | Pro-EU lawmaker Nicky Morgan accuses hard Brexiters of behaving like “toddlers” and says the Conservative Party needs to start speaking for the whole country. Meanwhile, former Education Secretary Justine Greening hints in a Times interview that she could rebel over Brexit, and also warns that the Tories are losing touch with voters.

Backup Border | A backup plan has been drafted by U.K. civil servants that would put border checks between Northern Ireland and mainland Britain, the Guardian reported. The plan could be “deployed as necessary in the negotiation process,” according to the paper, even though May has said that such a border would be unacceptable, and it would be rejected by her Northern Irish allies and much of her own party.

Trade Cuts | The Department for International Trade will cut hundreds of roles for promoting British exports because of a budget squeeze, the Financial Times reports. The department has hired up to 800 staff to negotiate trade deals after Brexit but is cutting up to 10 percent of trade promotion jobs, the paper says.

Economic Clouds | The Bloomberg Brexit Barometer last month had its largest drop since August 2017 as the U.K. jobs picture and market uncertainty took their toll. The measure, which includes data for growth, labor market, inflation and other key economic indicators, fell to 22.7 in April from a revised 33.2 in March.

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