Theresa May and other senior Conservatives in England have hit back at Boris Johnson after he claimed the British Prime Minister’s Brexit policy was “deranged” and “preposterous”.
Mr Johnson’s incendiary comments came as the Conservative Party’s annual conference began in Birmingham, with Mrs May seeking to put herself on the front foot by announcing a new levy on foreigners buying homes in the UK and plans for a national festival in 2022.
In remarks that will fuel speculation about his leadership ambitions, the UK’s former foreign secretary used a Sunday Times interview to say that “unlike the Prime Minister”, he had campaigned for Brexit and believed in it.
And he floated a series of policy ideas, including halting the HS2 rail link and building a bridge to Ireland.
Unlike the Prime Minister, I fought for this, I believe in it, I think it’s the right thing for our country and I think that what is happening now is, alas, not what people were promised in 2016
Asked about his suggestion that her Chequers plan for the future relationship between the UK and the EU was “deranged”, Mrs May insisted she was acting in “the national interest”. She told BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show: “I believe that the plan that we have put forward is a plan that is in the national interest.
“This is a plan which ensures we deliver on the vote of the British people.”
Speaking to The Sunday Times, Mr Johnson sought to draw a contrast between his own approach to Brexit and that of the Prime Minister, who campaigned to Remain in the 2016 referendum.
“Unlike the Prime Minister, I fought for this, I believe in it, I think it’s the right thing for our country and I think that what is happening now is, alas, not what people were promised in 2016,” he said.
But Mrs May insisted: “I do believe in Brexit. Crucially, I believe in delivering Brexit in a way that respects the vote and delivers on the vote of the British people while also protecting our union, protecting jobs and ensuring we make a success of Brexit for the future.”
Mrs May said that the blueprint agreed at her country residence in July was not dead, despite being branded unworkable by EU leaders in Salzburg and receiving a frosty reception from many Tory MPs and activists.
She said the onus was on the EU to come forward with detailed explanations of its concerns, along with counter-proposals for discussion.
“Chequers at the moment is the only plan on the table that delivers on the Brexit vote and also delivers for the people of Northern Ireland,” the Prime Minister told Marr.
“Where they have problems, let’s actually hear them and it’s only then that you can actually identify what the issue really is, where there are issues that lie behind this.
“My mood is to listen to what the EU have to say about their concerns and to sit down and talk them through with them.”
One of the blights of British politics is politicians having fantastic ideas that cost a fortune and don’t do much good
Mr Johnson branded Mrs May’s call for a facilitated customs arrangement, under which the UK would collect levies on behalf of the EU, “entirely preposterous”.
And his interview took a swipe at Mrs May’s broader approach to policy since she took power in 2016 with a promise to tackle “burning injustices” in society.
“I think we need to make the case for markets,” said the former mayor of London.
“I don’t think we should caper insincerely on socialist territory. You can’t beat (Jeremy) Corbyn by becoming Corbyn.”
Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson called for “a period of silence” from Mr Johnson, pointing out that he had given his endorsement when in Government to Brexit policies he was now criticising.
And former Brexit secretary David Davis, who quit Mrs May’s Cabinet along with Mr Johnson in protest at the Chequers plan, was dismissive of his fellow Leaver’s proposals on housing and a bridge to Ireland.
“I think one of the blights of British politics is politicians having fantastic ideas that cost a fortune and don’t do much good,” Mr Davis told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday.
“Boris is a great mate of mine, we have a very knockabout friendship, but quite a lot of his ideas, I think, are good headlines but not necessarily good policies.”
Mr Davis confirmed he would vote against Chequers if it came before the House of Commons in its current form, but rejected Labour suggestions that defeat for Mrs May at the hands of Tory rebels would collapse the Government.
“I will vote against Chequers, full stop, and it won’t lead to a general election,” he said.
“We are capable of managing this through.”
Mrs May used her own interview with The Sunday Times to set out new plans for a stamp duty surcharge of between 1%-3% on the price of property bought by people and businesses who do not pay tax in Britain.
The money raised would go towards measures to tackle rough sleeping.
Setting out her plans for a festival in post-Brexit Britain, she said: “We want to showcase what makes our country great today.
“We want to capture that spirit for a new generation, celebrate our nation’s diversity and talent, and mark this moment of national renewal with a once-in-a-generation celebration.”
Signalling that she intended to remain in Number 10 for years to come, Mrs May said: “There’s a long-term job to do.”