Author: David M. Herszenhorn
Divisions within British Prime Minister Theresa May’s government over major Brexit issues were on full display Sunday as Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson refused to endorse suggestions by other senior officials that the U.K. would make payments to the EU for access to its single market.
Speaking on The Andrew Marr show, Johnson said he supported the U.K.’s continued participation in joint educational and research programs with the EU and other countries, if there was a small cost, but he pointedly declined to endorse the idea of paying for access to the EU’s single market, as Brexit Secretary David Davis, and Philip Hammond, the chancellor of the exchequer, had suggested last week.
“That, is obviously something that David Davis is considering,” Johnson said, drawing a clear line between the education and research programs and paying for market access as Norway and Switzerland do now. “It doesn’t mean a decision has been taken,” he added.
Johnson insisted that Brexit would give the U.K. greater control of its spending and would return large sums of money now sent to Brussels.
“I am not going to get involved in the minutiae of our negotiating position before we trigger Article 50,” Johnson said as Marr, the host, tried to pin him down.
“What I will say [and] this is very important and people will want to hear this: I do believe that as a result of Brexit, we will be able to take back control of the money that we currently give to Brussels.” He added, “The crucial thing to understand is that very large sums of money will be coming back to this country.”
While steadfastly refusing to give a “yes” or “no” answer on payments in exchange for market access, Johnson did fire a predictable shot at his opponents in Labour. “I think David Davis is talking a great deal of sense and so is the prime minister, unlike the Labour Party.”
Moments later, Keir Starmer, the shadow secretary of state for Brexit, slammed Johnson’s remarks, accusing him and the May government of obfuscating on the most crucial issues.
“In 180 days your government starts these negotiations,” Starmer said, sitting next to Johnson in the television studio.
“Now is the time for clarity, not just attacking the Labour Party, but clarity. Customs union in or out? You say one thing, David Davis says another, and then we get the classic — we have had it this morning — which is when you realize there is this difference you say well no decision has yet been made.
We have got very little time left. We need to know the answers to these very basic questions,” Starmer said.