LONDON (Reuters) - Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal wraps “a suicide vest around the British constitution” and hands the detonator to the European Union, former foreign secretary Boris Johnson said in comments that drew strong criticism.
In an article in the Mail on Sunday newspaper, Johnson pressed his attack on May’s so-called Chequers plan to leave the EU, calling it “a humiliation” that opens “ourselves to perpetual political blackmail”.
May is under fire from all sides of the divisive Brexit debate, with Johnson, favourite to succeed her, leading a push by eurosceptic MPs for the government to “chuck Chequers” and pursue a clean break with the bloc.
But so far, May has signalled she will not drop her blueprint for Britain’s future ties with the bloc after Brexit - the biggest shift in the country’s foreign and trade policy for almost half a century.
“We have wrapped a suicide vest around the British constitution – and handed the detonator to (EU chief negotiator) Michel Barnier,” Johnson wrote.
His words - particularly the reference to a suicide vest - drew condemnation from fellow members of the governing Conservative Party.
Alan Duncan, a minister at the Foreign Office, said Johnson’s comments marked “one of the most disgusting moments in modern British politics”.
“For Boris to say that the PM’s view is like that of a suicide bomber is too much,” he said on Twitter. “I’m sorry, but this is the political end of Boris Johnson. If it isn’t now, I will make sure it is later.”
Johnson resigned as foreign secretary over the Chequers plan, named after May’s country residence where the government agreed proposals to maintain close trade ties with the EU in July, and has attacked it as making Britain “a vassal state”.
The prime minister’s plans have also been criticised by EU supporters for offering the “worst of all worlds”.
Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress, said her organisation would back a second vote on Brexit if May failed to win a deal that supported workers.
But two ministers batted away Johnson’s appeal for Britain to drop Chequers and negotiate a Canada-style trade deal instead, saying such an agreement would not solve the problem of a new border between Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland.
“It is not news that he has a difference of opinion with the prime minister and that’s why he left government,” Home Secretary Sajid Javid told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show. “I think there are much better ways to articulate your differences.”
Housing minister James Brokenshire urged Conservatives to move forward with the Chequers plan, which May has failed so far to win backing from her party, Britain’s parliament and also EU negotiators.
Many of Johnson’s supporters hope his increasingly vocal criticism of May signals that he will launch a leadership bid while other Conservatives suggest his Mail article was solely to distract attention away from his marital difficulties.
On Friday, Johnson said he had separated from his wife Marina Wheeler and that the couple would divorce.
Reporting by Elizabeth Piper; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky