LONDON - British Foreign Secretary (foreign minister) Boris Johnson strongly criticized Prime Minister Theresa May’s latest Brexit proposal in typically colorful terms before agreeing with his colleagues to back the compromise Friday, reports said.
Johnson, a leading supporter of a decisive break by Britain from the European Union, said May’s “business-friendly” plan was a “big turd” that would need to be “polished” in order to be sold to the public, the BBC said.
Johnson made his comments during eight hours of talks at May’s country residence that ended with the Cabinet, including himself, signing up to the plan.
It was a hard-won victory. The Sunday Times said seven of the 27 ministers present spoke out against the plan.
Environment Minister Michael Gove, a key ally of Johnson in the EU referendum campaign in 2016, defended the plan Sunday, saying it honored May’s negotiating red lines and met the demands of business even if it did not match all the hopes of some anti-EU campaigners.
“I am a realist,” Gove told the BBC.
“One of the things about politics is that you mustn’t, you shouldn’t, make the perfect the enemy of the good. And one of the things about this compromise is that it unites the Cabinet.”
May’s plan pushes for a free-trade area for goods and continued close ties with the EU.
Gove said it will give Britain autonomy from EU institutions and structures, while also having a free-trade agreement that will work in the interests of business.
“(In) all of the important areas where an independent country chooses to exercise sovereignty, Britain will be able to do so,” Gove said, adding the plan respects the referendum result.
But there were signs of a backlash among some lawmakers from May’s Conservative Party on Sunday, including leading anti-EU campaigner Jacob Rees-Mogg, who said the proposal could be worse than Britain leaving the bloc with no deal.
“That is not something that this country voted for, it is not what the prime minister promised,” he told BBC radio.
Opposition Labour Party Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer said May’s proposal had “fudge written all over it.”
He said the customs arrangements at the heart of the proposal are “unworkable” and a “bureaucratic nightmare that was not going to work.”
Starmer said May’s proposal had not met Labour’s demands for a comprehensive customs union and a single-market deal with shared institutions and regulations.
Labour’s opposition, combined with complaints from some of the Conservatives’ strongly anti-EU faction, means May faces a tough task in getting lawmakers to back a final deal agreed with the EU.
The compromise also is not certain to go down well in Brussels.
The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, welcomed the agreement Friday but added on Twitter: “We will assess proposals to see if they are workable and realistic.”