Politics: Boris Johnson accuses Remainers of a disastrous ‘betrayal’ in trying to stop Brexit

Boris Johnson

The Foreign secretary used a major speech today to disprove the 'fears' of Remain campaigners.

  • Boris Johnson accuses anti-Brexit supporters of making a "disastrous mistake".
  • The Foreign Secretary says those trying to stop Brexit are creating a "betrayal" of the referendum vote.
  • He says Remainers are becoming "ever more determined" to stop Brexit
  • However, Johnson concedes that "many" Remain supporters have "noble" aims.

LONDON — Boris Johnson today accused Remain campaigners of making a "disastrous mistake" to try and stop Brexit, saying that they risked creating "permanent and ineradicable feelings of betrayal" among those who voted to leave the EU.

In a major speech at the Policy Exchange think tank in London, Johnson accused politicians, such as the Conservative MP Anna Soubry, of attempting to "frustrate" Brexit.

"I fear that some people are becoming ever more determined to stop Brexit, to reverse the referendum vote of June 23 2016, and to frustrate the will of the people," he said.

"I believe that would be a disastrous mistake that would lead to permanent and ineradicable feelings of betrayal. We cannot and will not let it happen."

He said a second vote on Brexit would be hugely damaging to the country.

"I say to my Remainer friends. More people voted for Brexit than anything in the history of this country. I say in candour, if there was another vote, it'd be another year of turmoil and wrangling in which the country would be the loser," he said.

Johnson denied being a "reactionary Farageist" however and used his speech to "recognise that feeling of grief and alienation" among Remain supporters, saying that Brexit was a cause for "hope" not "fear".

"I recognise that feeling of grief and alienation because I've heard it so often from friends, family, and people hurling abuse at me on the street," he said.

"But if we are to carry this project through to national success – as we must – then we must also reach out to those who still have anxieties," he added.

"I want to try today to anatomise at least some of those fears and to show to the best of my ability that they are unfounded, and that the very opposite is usually true: that Brexit is not grounds for fear but hope.”

In a partial attempt to reach out to Remain supporters, the Foreign Secretary conceded that "many" Remainers are motivated by "noble sentiments".

"Is this the time now for the referendum winners to gloat? Should we sit back and silent self-satisfaction? I don't think we should. It's not good enough now for us to say to Remainers 'get over it, you lost'."

"Because we must accept that many are actuated by entirely noble sentiments, a real sense of solidarity with our European neighbours and a desire for the UK to succeed," he said.

Johnson called on May to implement stricter immigration rules after Brexit and stop the flow of "low skilled, low wage" workers from the EU.

Writing in the Sun in advance of his speech Johnson claimed that EU membership had led to the wages of "indigenous" British people to being suppressed.

"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," he wrote.

However, he denied that Britain would become "insular" after Brexit.

"It's not about shutting ourselves off. it's about going global," he said.

"It is not a V sign from the cliffs of Dover, it is the expression of a legitimate and natural desire for self-government…that is surely not some reactionary Faragist concept."

Johnson's comments were described by anti-Brexit campaigners as "hypocrisy of the highest order."

"He has so far failed to explain why he is campaigning in Cabinet to take the U.K. out of the customs union when there is no other solution to the Irish border issue and it will jeopardize the Good Friday Agreement settlement," Labour MP and Open Britain campaigner Chuka Umunna said.

"He has failed to explain why the Government has failed to start negotiating new trade deals when the campaign he led promised we would do so immediately after the Leave vote."

"Boris Johnson needs to come clean and concede that we cannot have our cake and eat it when leaving the EU. His speech is on Valentine’s Day, not April Fool’s Day."

The foreign secretary's speech is the first of five major Brexit speeches by senior members of May's government. The prime minister is expected to deliver her own speech in Munich on Saturday.

"Waffly, bumbling, empty"

Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston criticised Johnson's speech in a series of tweets posted on Wednesday afternoon.

The MP for Totnes accused the foreign secretary of ignoring the practical challenges posed by Brexit and damaging Britain's global image. She also urged the government to drop its "relentless optimism bias" and make a "serious speech" about how it intends to solve issues posed by leaving the EU, such as the Irish border.

Conservative MP Soubry, who is one of Parliament's biggest critics of the government's Brexit plan, said Johnson's speech showed he has failed "to understand the very real concerns" of British business.

Soubry claimed Johnson and other Brexiteers were "not proper Conservatives" in an interview with BBC Newsnight last week.

Soubry's colleague, Tory MP Sarah Wollaston, said Johnson's speech "did not address any of the serious practical difficulties" posed by leaving the European Union.

Labour MP Yvette Cooper described the foreign secretary's speech as "waffly, bumbling, empty" in a tweet posted shortly afterwards.

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