British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson risked a fresh Brexit row Friday after being secretly recorded predicting a “meltdown” in the negotiations, accusing elements of the government of blocking the process and implying US President Donald Trump might handle it better.
Britain’s free-wheeling top diplomat also mused about relations with Russia and China — and suggested there was “method in the madness” of Trump’s approach to politics.
Prime Minister Theresa May’s spokeswoman refused to comment directly on the leaked remarks, made earlier this week to Conservative activists and revealed by BuzzFeed News.
But she said the premier “of course” had confidence in her foreign minister.
In his latest indiscreet remarks, Johnson said the government was reaching a phase in negotiations “where we are much more combative with Brussels”.
“You’ve got to face the fact there may now be a meltdown,” he said, ahead of a key EU summit at the end of June.
He added, according to further quotes revealed in The Times:[tooltip id=”4500c2f113202943ff1ae30d00c9d4ac”] [/tooltip]“Take the fight to the enemy — absolutely right. We need to — and we will.
Johnson revealed he was “increasingly admiring of Donald Trump… I have become more and more convinced that there is method in his madness”.
“Imagine Trump doing Brexit,” he added.
“He’d go in bloody hard… There’d be all sorts of breakdowns, all sorts of chaos. Everyone would think he’d gone mad.
“But actually you might get somewhere. It’s a very, very good thought.”
Johnson, a leading campaigner for Brexit, said there was a risk that Britain’s withdrawal “will not be the one we want”.
He said the establishment — in particular the Treasury, led by Finance Minister Philip Hammond — was seeking to ensure that Brexit “does as little change as possible”.
Britain risked remaining “locked in orbit around the EU, in the customs union, and to a large extent still in the single market”.
In a veiled criticism of May’s approach, he said:[tooltip id=”4500c2f113202943ff1ae30d00c9d4ac”] [/tooltip]“Unless you have the guts to go for the independent (trade) policy, you’re never going to get the economic benefits of Brexit.”
China ‘will try to stiff us’
May’s spokeswoman conceded there was “rigorous debate” in government, adding:[tooltip id=”4500c2f113202943ff1ae30d00c9d4ac”] [/tooltip]“The PM believes that her cabinet and her government are working hard to deliver on the will of the people.”
However, she slapped down Johnson’s suggestion that the Irish border issue, which has been holding up the negotiations, had been overstated.
He said:[tooltip id=”4500c2f113202943ff1ae30d00c9d4ac”] [/tooltip]“It’s so small and there are so few firms that actually use that border regularly, it’s just beyond belief that we’re allowing the tail to wag the dog in this way.”
The spokeswoman said that avoiding checks between Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland “has been priority for the PM from day one”.
“The PM is committed to the union (of the United Kingdom) and the emergence of a hard border would put that at risk,” she said.
Away from domestic politics, Johnson also suggested May would put forward a new plan at the G7 summit in Canada for a “rapid response unit” to deal with Russian aggression, including cyber-warfare.
On China, he said:[tooltip id=”4500c2f113202943ff1ae30d00c9d4ac”] [/tooltip]“We need to engage with China diplomatically, treat China as our friend and our partner, but also recognise that they are our commercial rivals. And they will try to stiff us.”
Johnson also said US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had asked Britain to use its nuclear expertise in helping North Korea dismantle its arsenal.
A source close to Johnson said the remarks were made at a private dinner “so it is sad and very disappointing that it has been covertly recorded and distributed to the media”.
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