Boris Johnson's brother quits UK government over 'terrible mistake' Brexit deal

[LONDON] Jo Johnson, the Remain-backing brother of Brexit figurehead Boris Johnson, resigned as Britain's transport minister on Friday, branding a proposed EU withdrawal deal a "terrible mistake" that needed a fresh referendum.

Mr Johnson, who campaigned for Britain to stay in the European Union in the 2016 referendum, follows his elder sibling Boris - who spearheaded the pro-Brexit camp and quit as foreign secretary in July over Prime Minister Theresa May's plans - out of government over the divisive issue.

"It has become increasingly clear to me that the withdrawal agreement, which is being finalised... will be a terrible mistake," Jo Johnson wrote in a stinging resignation statement.

"It is entirely right to go back to the people and ask them to confirm their decision to leave the EU and if they choose to do that, to give them the final say on whether we leave with the prime minister's deal or without it," he added.

Mrs May's Downing Street office said on Twitter: "We will not under any circumstances have a second referendum".

It added: "The prime minister thanks Jo Johnson for his work in government."

Mrs May is reportedly close to securing a divorce deal with Brussels, as time runs out to get an agreement approved by British and European parliaments ahead of the UK's planned departure from the EU on March 29 next year.

The agreement will finalise the country's exit bill of around £39 billion (S$70 million), guarantee citizens' rights and see a 21-month transition phase during which London will follow EU rules.

British and European negotiators will then seek to agree the future relationship.


A contentious backstop agreement, now close to being agreed, will aim to avoid a hard land border between Northern Ireland, part of the UK, and the Republic of Ireland if the two sides have not struck a long-term deal.

But Mrs May has drawn the fury of her Northern Irish allies the Democratic Unionist Party. The DUP props up her government and fears being left in a customs union with the EU.

Its leader Arlene Foster said Friday she could not vote for the deal if it could see the province treated differently from the rest of the UK.

In his resignation statement, Mr Johnson said the mooted deal would leave Britain "economically weakened, with no say in the EU rules it must follow and years of uncertainty for business".

He added the alternative of no-deal would "inflict untold damage on our nation".

"To present the nation with a choice between two deeply unattractive outcomes, vassalage and chaos, is a failure of British statecraft on a scale unseen since the Suez crisis," Mr Johnson said.

The departing minister noted Brexit had divided Britain, political parties and "families too", but added: "what is now being proposed won't be anything like what was promised two years ago" during the referendum campaign.

"My brother Boris... is as unhappy with the government's proposals as I am," he said.

"If these negotiations have achieved little else, they have at least united us in fraternal dismay."

Boris Johnson soon responded on Twitter: "Boundless admiration as ever for my brother Jo.

"We may not have agreed about Brexit but we are united in dismay at the intellectually and politically indefensible... UK position."


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