‘Full British Brexit’ row as thousands take to streets, two years on from vote
The head of Seimens UK criticised Boris Johnson, saying hardline rhetoric was ‘unhelpful’ and calling for a ‘pragmatic’ soft Brexit.
Boris Johnson has urged the Prime Minister to deliver a “full British Brexit” as Cabinet colleagues warned the UK is able to walk away without a deal.
International Trade Secretary Liam Fox said the UK was not “bluffing” about being prepared to walk away from talks with Brussels, and Brexit Secretary David Davis said there is “lots going on” to prepare in case negotiations collapse.
Meanwhile, Foreign Secretary Mr Johnson said people would not tolerate a “bog roll Brexit” that was “soft, yielding and seemingly infinitely long”.
Their remarks were published on Saturday, the second anniversary of 2016’s EU referendum. Thousands of pro-EU marchers have begun a walk from Pall Mall to Parliament to demand a referendum on the terms of Brexit two years on from the vote.
The ministers’ comments prompted criticism from Siemens UK chief executive Juergen Maier, who said they were “incredibly unhelpful” and said it was time to work for a more pragmatic deal with the EU.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today that the firm wanted a soft Brexit with “minimum friction”, saying the Government had presided over “two years of not having achieved what we were promised, which is that this was all going to be easy”.
He said: “I think the realities are setting in and I think it is time to get away from slogans, ‘full British Brexit’, ‘going into combat with Europe’.
“It’s all incredibly unhelpful and what we need to do now is to get closer with our European partners and work out what a realistic, pragmatic Brexit is that works for both sides, the EU and ourselves.”
Meanwhile, research by the Centre for European Reform (CER) think tank indicated Brexit had already made the UK economy 2.1% weaker than it would have been if voters had decided to stay in the EU.
Dr Fox told the BBC it is “essential” the EU “understands… and believes” the Prime Minister’s assertion that no deal would be better than a bad deal.
He said the threat had “added credibility because if we were to leave, the economic impact on a number of European countries would be severe”.
“I think our negotiating partners would not be wise if they believed that the Prime Minister was bluffing,” he said.
Speaking to the Daily Express, Mr Davis said that Britain was “able to leave without a deal”.
“We don’t want to do that, never have. The best option is leaving with a good deal but you’ve got to be able to walk away from the table,” he said.
Rejecting claims the Government has failed to make adequate preparations for a no-deal Brexit, he told the paper: “There’s lots going on, we haven’t made it public for very simple reasons.
“This is a careful process, it is not designed to scare the horses to worry people, it is designed to get the work done.”
The Brexit Secretary cited planning on migration matters and health standards, as well as treatment available to Britons in Europe.
“Work is going on all these things for both the negotiated outcome and if something goes wrong,” Mr Davis said.
Their comments in interviews to mark two years since the British people voted to leave the European Union were made before Airbus warned it could be forced to pull out of the UK if there was a “no deal” Brexit.
Katherine Bennett, Airbus’s senior vice president in the UK, told the Press Association: “We don’t deal in idle threats. We seriously believe a no-deal Brexit would be catastrophic.”
Writing in the Sun, Mr Johnson said the public were keen to get on with breaking away from Brussels.
“Across the country I find people who – whatever they voted two years ago – just want us to get on and do it,” he said.
“They don’t want a half-hearted Brexit. They don’t want some sort of hopeless compromise, some perpetual pushme-pullyou arrangement in which we stay half-in and half-out in a political no man’s land – with no more ministers round the table in Brussels and yet forced to obey EU laws.
“They don’t want some bog roll Brexit, soft, yielding and seemingly infinitely long.
“They want this Government to fulfil the mandate of the people and deliver a full British Brexit.”
But organisers of the People’s Vote march expect tens of thousands of people to show their support for a referendum on the final Brexit outcome.
Marchers will descend on Parliament Square, where speakers will include Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable, Tory former minister Anna Soubry, Labour’s David Lammy and Green co-leader Caroline Lucas.
Sir Vince is expected to say Brexit is not a “done deal” or inevitable and can be stopped.
“Parliament is fiddling at the margins while the country slowly burns,” he is expected to warn as he calls on the Government to vote on the deal, or no deal, with the option of staying in the EU.
The CER estimate of a 2.1% smaller economy than if the UK had voted to remain in the EU is equivalent to a knock-on hit of £23 billion a year to the public finances, some £440 million a week.
CER deputy director John Springford said: “Two years on from the referendum, we now know that the Brexit vote has seriously damaged the economy.”