LONDON – Brexit campaigner Boris Johnson called on Prime Minister Theresa May to rip up her proposal for Britain’s exit from the European Union, ratcheting up the pressure on May as she prepares to face her divided party at its annual conference next week.
Just six months before Britain is due to leave the European Union on March 29, 2019, little is clear: May has yet to clinch a Brexit divorce deal with the EU and rebels in her party have threatened to vote down any deal she makes.
Adding to the uncertainty, a poll of polls published on Friday showed voters would now vote 52 to 48 percent in favor of remaining in the EU were there to be another Brexit referendum. May has repeatedly ruled out another referendum.
Johnson, the bookmakers’ favorite to succeed May, said her Brexit plans would leave the United Kingdom half in and half out of the club it joined in 1973 and in effective “enforced vassalage.”
“This is the moment to change the course of the negotiations and do justice to the ambitions and potential of Brexit,” Johnson, who resigned in July as foreign secretary over May’s Brexit proposals, wrote in Friday’s Daily Telegraph.
Under the headline, “My plan for a better Brexit,” Johnson called for a “SuperCanada-type free trade agreement.” He said the EU’s “backstop” proposals for Northern Ireland, under which the British-ruled province would remain within the EU customs union even if the rest of Britain left, amounted to the economic annexation of part of the United Kingdom.
The plan outlined by Johnson gained support from other rebels such as Conservative lawmaker Jacob Rees-Mogg who are pushing for a deeper break with the EU.
“This is an opportunity for the U.K. to become more dynamic and more successful, and we should not be shy of saying that — and we should recognise that it is exactly this potential our EU partners seek to constrain,” Johnson wrote.
May, who voted to stay in the EU, is trying to clinch a divorce deal with the EU while grappling with an open rebellion in her Conservative Party, which convenes in the English city of Birmingham on Sunday for its annual party conference.
May has repeatedly said her Brexit proposals are the only viable ones. The 30-year schism inside her party over Europe helped sink the premierships of her Conservative predecessors Margaret Thatcher, John Major and David Cameron.
More than two years since the 2016 Brexit referendum, the United Kingdom, its politicians and its business leaders remain deeply divided over Brexit, considered to be one the most important decisions in post-World War Two British history.
In the June 23, 2016, referendum, 17.4 million voters, or 51.9 percent, backed leaving the EU, while 16.1 million voters, or 48.1 percent, backed staying. Some recent surveys have shown a swing towards support for staying in the EU.
If there were to be another referendum, researchers said a narrow victory for those hoping to reverse Brexit would be heavily contingent on getting those who did not vote last time to turn out.
“True, Remain enjoys a lead in the polls. But that lead remains a narrow one, and there is little sign of it growing,” said John Curtice, Britain’s most prominent polling expert.
Gina Miller, who took the British government to court over triggering Brexit, said it was “very likely” Britain will need to hold a second referendum on EU membership or a general election to break the deadlock over Brexit.
But she said that if Britain did leave then the campaign to remain in the bloc should be abandoned.
“Everyone is obsessed. Our bandwidth is completely taken up with Brexit,” Miller said. “Our money, our time … We can’t carry on like this. We need to make the best of it.”
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