Boris Johnson to rebuke Brexit critics in thinly veiled attack on John Major

Foreign secretary will use speech to British Chambers of Commerce to strike positive tone about Britain’s future outside the EU

Boris Johnson will hit out at those projecting doom and gloom on Brexit in a speech that will be seen as a rebuke of Sir John Major, sources have told the Guardian.

They said the foreign secretary would use a speech to the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) to strike a positive tone about the future for Britain outside the EU.

Though he will not name the former Conservative party leader, the intervention will be seen as the government’s response to Major’s recent criticism as well as an earlier intervention by Tony Blair, who called for people to rise up against Brexit.

Johnson will claim officials in a range of countries have told him they are willing to negotiate trade deals with Britain.

The foreign secretary and other Brexit supporters were annoyed with Major’s suggestion that Theresa May’s government must avoid souring the article 50 negotiations with “cheap rhetoric”. He said the government ought to give voters an honest warning about the risks of Brexit.

With May poised to begin the formal process of leaving the EU within weeks, the former prime minister used his first big speech on Brexit since last year’s referendum to issue a series of thinly veiled attacks on Downing Street’s approach.

“I have watched with growing concern as the British people have been led to expect a future that seems to be unreal and overoptimistic,” Major said, speaking at the Chatham House thinktank in London.

“Obstacles are brushed aside as of no consequence, while opportunities are inflated beyond any reasonable expectation of delivery.”

He urged May’s government to be “realistic about the timescale and complexity of the huge undertaking that lies ahead”.

Sir John Major
Sir John Major has been a vocal critic of Theresa May’s Brexit strategy. Photograph: PA

May struck a combative tone before the critical talks, pledging to deliver a “red, white and blue Brexit”, and warning the other 27 EU member states that Britain will fight back by cutting tax and regulation if it is offered a poor deal.

But Major urged the government to take a more emollient approach. “In my own experience, the most successful results are obtained when talks are conducted with goodwill. It is much easier to reach agreement with a friend than a quarrelsome neighbour,” he said.

“Behind the diplomatic civilities, the atmosphere is already sour. A little more charm, and a lot less cheap rhetoric, would do much to protect the UK’s interests.”

Johnson will challenge Brexit critics at the BCC annual conference in Westminster. The business group said the government should seek to secure an extension to the two-year Brexit negotiations if an EU trade deal was not brokered.

It argued that the ideal scenario for companies would be for the EU exit talks and the UK’s future trade agreement with the economic and political bloc to be concluded simultaneously.

“Business communities across the UK want practical considerations, not ideology or politics, at the heart of the government’s approach to Brexit negotiations,” said Adam Marshall, director general of the BCC.

“What’s debated in Westminster often isn’t what matters for most businesses. Most firms care little about the exact process for triggering article 50, but they care a lot about an unexpected VAT hit to their cash flow, sudden changes to regulation, the inability to recruit the right people for the job, or if their products are stopped by customs authorities at the border.”

He called for the “everyday nitty-gritty of doing business across borders” to be at the heart of the negotiation process. “What’s also clear is that the eventual Brexit deal is far from the only thing on the minds of the UK’s business communities,” Marshall said.


Anushka Asthana Political editor

The GuardianTramp

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