Boris Johnson has chosen Valentine’s Day to deliver a tough-yet-tender message on Brexit and to urge infighting Tories to kiss and make up. Remainers are not wooed, however, and the foreign secretary has been accused of hypocrisy.
In a first of a series of major speeches by senior Cabinet ministers, Johnson will say stopping Brexit would be a “betrayal.” In his speech ‘The Road to Brexit: A United Kingdom’ pro-Leave Johnson will issue a call to Leavers and Remainers to move on from divisions of the past.
The foreign secretary will try to build bridges with his opponents by saying leaving the EU is “not grounds for fear, but hope,” and urge Brexiteers to “reach out to those who still have anxieties.”
According to excerpts released in advance of his speech, Johnson will say: “I want to try today to anatomize at least [some] fears and 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.”
He is also set to issue a warning. “I fear that some people are becoming ever more determined to stop Brexit… I believe that would be a disastrous mistake that would lead to permanent and ineradicable feelings of betrayal. We cannot and will not let that happen.”
Johnson’s opponents are not convinced, however. His betrayal comments have triggered a backlash from MPs, who accuse him of hypocrisy.
Labour MP Chuka Umunna MP, a leading supporter of pro-Remain group Open Britain, said Johnson was engaged in “disgraceful scaremongering” during the referendum campaign, and that he was “totally unqualified to preach about the perils of fear and betrayal.”
Johnson will also claim that Brexit could open the door to an outward-facing, liberal and global Britain. However, he will say that a major mistake of the past was that pro-EU voices too often ignored those who opposed membership of the European bloc and he will say ministers must not repeat that.
“It is not good enough to say to remainers — you lost, get over it, 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.”
Johnson’s is the first in a series of speeches by Theresa May and her ministers on the “road to Brexit.”
The Prime Minister is expected to address the UK’s future relations with the EU in a speech in Munich on Saturday, the day after she holds talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin.