Boris Johnson has savaged Theresa May’s “miserable” blueprint for leaving the EU, telling MPs it is “not too late to save Brexit”.
In an explosive resignation statement, the former foreign secretary praised the prime minister’s “courage” and “resilience”, but said the government had “dithered” and allowed a “fog of self-doubt” to descend.
Mr Johnson resigned from the government earlier this month over Mrs May’s vision for leaving EU, claiming her proposals for our future relationship with Brussels would see Britain take on “the status of a colony”.
His bombshell departure – which followed David Davis quitting as Brexit secretary – plunged the PM’s leadership into crisis and sparked speculation her position in Downing Street could come under threat.
Ever since, Mr Johnson’s resignation speech to parliament – a long-standing convention afforded to departing ministers – has been eagerly awaited.
In his 12-minute speech Mr Johnson advocated a change of policy rather than a change of leader, telling the Commons: “If the PM can fix that vision once again before us then I believe she can deliver a great Brexit for Britain.”
The thrust of Mr Johnson’s address was that Mrs May had previously set out a “bold and ambitious” vision for Britain’s future outside the EU, before taking fright and diluting her Brexit plan.
He unfavourably contrasted her Chequers blueprint – which envisages Britain signing up to EU rules and regulations for goods (a “common rulebook”) – with the PM’s Lancaster House speech of January 2017.
Back then, Mrs May pledged she would leave the EU’s customs union and single market, allowing a “global Britain” to strike out into the world.
Brexiteers contend that maintaining a “common rulebook” would be akin to staying in the customs union, restrict Britain’s ability to sign free trade deals with non-EU countries and represents a betrayal of the 2016 Leave vote.
Indeed, Mr Johnson claimed in the Commons that, under this plan, Britain was “volunteering for economic vassalage” and it would represent “Brexit in name only”.
Referring to the period after the Lancaster House speech, he said: “We never actually turned that vision into a negotiating position in Brussels and we never made it into a negotiating offer.
“Instead we dithered and we burned through our negotiating capital.
“We agreed to hand over a £40bn exit fee with no discussion of our future economic relationship.
“We accepted the jurisdiction of the European Court over key aspects of the withdrawal agreement and worst of all we allowed the question of the Northern Irish border, which had hitherto been assumed on all sides to be readily soluble, to become so politically charged as to dominate the debate.”
Mr Johnson made the case for Mrs May returning to her original Brexit red lines, saying: “It is not too late to save Brexit.
“We have time in these negotiations. We have changed tack once and we can change again.
“The problem is not that we have failed to make the case for a free trade agreement of the kind spelt out at Lancaster House.
“We haven’t even tried. We must try now because we will not get another chance to do it right.”
Labour MP Wes Streeting, a supporter of the People’s Vote campaign for a referendum on the final exit deal, described Mr Johnson’s speech as a “damp squib”.
“All it shows is that while the car is careering towards the Brexit cliff-edge, senior Conservatives are still fighting over what song to play on the stereo,” he said.
“The proposals on the table satisfy nobody, which is why more and more members of the public know the only way to sort out this political mess is to take back control of the process with a People’s Vote on a final Brexit deal.”
Former UKIP leader Nigel Farage said: “A very well delivered speech from Boris but it is hopeless to expect Mrs May to deliver on any of it.”