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Boris Johnson Says Voting for Brexit Deal Will Be Difficult

Boris Johnson Says Voting for Brexit Deal Will Be Difficult
LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 02: Former UK prime minister Boris Johnson addresses the Global Soft Power Summit at The Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre on March 2, 2023 in London, England. The conference explores the role of soft power in international politics and business. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Boris Johnson, who led the UK out of the European Union and still remains popular within the governing Conservative party, said he will struggle to support a revised Brexit deal seen as key to mending ties with the country’s biggest trading partner.

“I’m going to find it very difficult to vote for something like this myself, because I believed we should’ve done something very different, no matter how much plaster came off the ceiling in Brussels,” the former leader told the Global Soft Power Summit in London on Thursday.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is trying to garner support for his accord to reset the fractious relationship with the EU. As the most high-profile pro-Brexit politician and a hero to some Conservative factions, Johnson’s opinion could still influence any potential rebellion against the deal.

There’s also no love lost for Sunak, whose resignation as chancellor of the exchequer last July precipitated Johnson’s downfall as prime minister. Johnson refused to back Sunak’s efforts in the run-up to the deal announcement on Monday, instead pointing to his own agreement as the “best way forward” to resolve the post-Brexit standoff.

Sunak ditched a flagship piece of legislation, introduced by Johnson, which would have unilaterally ripped up parts of the current Brexit arrangements with the EU. So far, his revisions pertaining to Northern Ireland have been well-received by Tory members of Parliament, including some ardent Brexit supporters.

Johnson conceded that the prevailing wind was behind Sunak. “It is clear that this is where people are now,” he told the audience in London. “People want to move on. I get that.”

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“I hope that it will work and I also hope that if it doesn’t work we will have the guts to employ that bill again, because I have no doubt at all that that is what brought the EU to negotiate seriously,” he said.

But he added Sunak had not properly divorced from the EU. “This is not about the UK taking back control and although there are easements this is really a version of the solution that was being offered last year to Liz Truss when she was foreign secretary,” Johnson said.

“This is the EU graciously unbending to allow us to do what we want to do in our own country, not by our laws, but by theirs.”

A minority grouping of Conservative MPs in the European Research Group who are currently considering whether to back the prime minister. ERG Chairman Mark Francois said on Tuesday it could take at least two weeks for the group to go through it “with an extremely fine tooth comb.”

It’s unclear how much power the ERG can wield. Some in the group estimate their numbers at around 100 Conservative MPs, though others put the caucus at under 20 and say their ability to organize has diminished since the height of the Brexit battles in the House of Commons because some of their former number have entered government and others have lost appetite for constant skirmishes over Brexit.

Sunak is likely to be able to steer his deal through a planned parliamentary vote because he has the support of the main opposition Labour Party.

The UK premier is also waiting to see whether skeptical members of the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland back his new agreement with the EU. Jeffrey Donaldson, leader of the DUP, cautiously welcomed Sunak’s deal on Monday. He said, though, that his party needs more time to study it, and that some issues remain.

Johnson also said the UK should be looking at cutting corporation tax rates to Irish levels or lower. Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt is facing calls from businesses and lawmakers to delay or scrap a planned increase to 25% from 19%.

“There is no point in this exercise if you don’t do things differently,” Johnson said. “We should dare to be different on the economy.”


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