Jo Johnson, brother of Boris, resigns over Brexit

‘The choice being presented to the British people is no choice at all,’ says transport minister.

LONDON — U.K. Transport Minister Jo Johnson resigned today over Theresa May’s “incoherent” Brexit strategy.

Johnson, brother of former foreign secretary and Brexiteer figurehead Boris, issued a statement describing the Brexit withdrawal agreement — which he said is being “finalized in Brussels and Whitehall even as I write” — as a “terrible mistake.”

“The choice being presented to the British people is no choice at all,” he wrote, calling for May’s deal to be put to the people in a referendum, with the option of remaining in the EU.

A second referendum “would not be about re-running the 2016 referendum,” he said, “but about asking people whether they want to go ahead with Brexit now that we know the deal that is actually available to us, whether we should leave without any deal at all or whether people on balance would rather stick with the deal we already have inside the European Union.

“Given that the reality of Brexit has turned out to be so far from what was once promised, the democratic thing to do is to give the public the final say,” he wrote.

Johnson said May’s deal would leave the country “economically weakened, with no say in the EU rules it must follow and years of uncertainty for business.

“The second option is a ‘no-deal’ Brexit that I know as a Transport Minister will inflict untold damage on our nation.

“To present the nation with a choice between two deeply unattractive outcomes, vassalage and chaos, is a failure of British statecraft on a scale unseen since the Suez crisis.”

Johnson’s resignation is significant as, unlike his brother, he backed Remain in the 2016 EU referendum, and his decision to quit could be a sign of wider discontent against May’s Brexit plan within the Conservative Party.

“My brother Boris, who led the Leave campaign, is as unhappy with the government’s proposals as I am,” Johnson continued. “Indeed he recently observed that the proposed arrangements were ‘substantially worse than staying in the EU.’ On that he is unquestionably right. If these negotiations have achieved little else, they have at least united us in fraternal dismay.”

Boris Johnson tweeted that he had “boundless admiration” for his brother, adding that “we may not have agreed about Brexit but we are united in dismay at the intellectually and politically indefensible of the UK position.”

Asked whether he was aware of other ministers who felt the same, Tory MP and former attorney general Dominic Grieve said: “I know there are many other people who are troubled by what has been happening and have come to same analysis that I’ve come to and Jo’s come to.

“I appreciate they face difficult choices and I couldn’t make a prediction that more people are going to quit over this, but it does seem to me [that] the truth of all this is that there is no form of Brexit that is better than staying in the EU and that has become absolutely clear as the negotiation has gone on.”

A Tory MP on the Remain wing of the party said the resignation was “quite significant.” He said he knew of several others who were “considering what to do.”

An aide to a Brexiteer MP put a gloss on the resignation, pointing out that Remainers were “equally unhappy” with May’s deal.

A spokesman for the People’s Vote campaign, which is pushing for a fresh vote on May’s deal, said: “We think there are a handful of ministers who do not think that differently from Jo. We’re working on them and lots of Conservative MPs who we think could back a People’s Vote. Everybody has to make up their own mind. It’s their choice about how best to represent the interests of their constituents and their country. Do I expect Johnson to be the last ministerial resignation? I don’t.”

In a statement, Jenny Chapman, Labour’s shadow Brexit minister, said: “Jo Johnson is the eighteenth minister to resign from Theresa May’s government. She has lost all authority and is incapable of negotiating a Brexit deal within her own party, let alone with the EU.”

Rachel Johnson, a journalist and Jo and Boris’ sister, tweeted that she was “hugely proud of my honourable and principled brother Jo who has put the interests of the country ahead of his political career.” Last year she joined the Liberal Democrats in protest at Tory support for Brexit.


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Madrid tells businesses to get ready for (any) Brexit

Only one-third of Spanish companies have made Brexit contingency plans.

MADRID — Spain is stepping up calls on businesses to get ready for any potential Brexit outcome.

Industry and Commerce Minister Reyes Maroto this week announced a series of actions aimed at “helping companies prepare contingency plans” for Brexit, including informational meetings with business leaders and a public website.

“We have to inform companies that any scenario can occur,” she told reporters. “Some [companies] still convey to us hopes that nothing will happen, and the reality is that something is going to happen.”

Only 31 percent of Spanish companies have made contingency plans for Brexit, and just 19 percent have started implementing those plans, according to a survey of 2,000 executives conducted by KPMG in coordination with the CEOE, Spain’s biggest business lobby.

A CEOE official said the government has told businesses to prepare for three potential scenarios: A no-deal Brexit (with the U.K. falling under the trade rules of the World Trade Organization), a so-called Canada-plus agreement — which would go beyond the EU’s deal with the North American country — and a deal whereby the U.K. remains in the EU customs union.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has told civil and business leaders to prepare for any kind of Brexit | Raul Arboleda/AFP via Getty Images

Madrid has consistently advocated for the softest possible Brexit, under both the current Socialist and previous conservative governments. But there are growing concerns among officials that this may not be the outcome, leading some to fear Spain could be one of the biggest economic losers from Brexit.

The U.K. is the biggest recipient of Spanish foreign investment, the second largest foreign investor in Spain and the fifth biggest destination for Spanish exports. The U.K. also sends the largest number of tourists to Spain, and Brits buy more real estate in the country than any other foreign nationals, according to KPMG.

On top of that, more than 300,000 British nationals live in Spain — the highest number from any EU country — and around 150,000 Spaniards live in the U.K.

Maroto’s comments follow a series of warnings in recent weeks by Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and his Foreign Minister Josep Borrell, asking both public administrations and business leaders to get ready for any kind of Brexit.

“The agreement on air transport is the most important thing” — Josep Borrell, Spanish foreign minister

Speaking in Parliament last week, Sánchez called on all economic, social and institutional stakeholders to elaborate “their own contingency plans” to face “any kind of scenario that can occur after March 29, 2019.”

Last month, Borrell warned the Congress of Deputies that many companies still don’t have contingency plans, when they should. “It’s important for people to understand that we must be ready for any eventuality,” he said.

A Spanish diplomat working on the Brexit negotiations said the likelihood of a cliff-edge, no-deal scenario had increased slightly after the EU and the U.K. failed to reach an agreement in October, leading Madrid to accelerate preparations.

The diplomat said Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo is coordinating plans across all government departments, which, he said, includes getting ready to hire extra customs officers, as well laying out urgent regulations on trade protocols or phytosanitary standards.

He said Madrid was stepping up calls for everyone to get ready for Brexit after seeing that Spanish companies lagged their German and French counterparts in their preparations.

Top among Madrid’s economic concerns is the fate of the aviation sector.

“The agreement on air transport is the most important thing,” Borrel said in Congress. Spain’s flagship airline Iberia is part of the IAG conglomerate that also owns British Airways, Aer Lingus and Vueling.

Spanish officials have also expressed concerns about the fishing industry — Spanish shipowners partly rely on British waters — tourism and expected cuts to agricultural subsidies and structural funds.


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In so many areas the EU’s negotiating stance is sadly defined by the politics of punishment, rather than economics

The news that Boeing has just opened a £40 million manufacturing facility in Sheffield to make parts for their latest 737 and 767 aircraft, which are assembled in the United States, serves to remind us that our world-class aerospace business is global and to torpedo the claims of Airbus – and some car manufacturers – […]

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The news that Boeing has just opened a £40 million manufacturing facility in Sheffield to make parts for their latest 737 and 767 aircraft, which are assembled in the United States, serves to remind us that our world-class aerospace business is global and to torpedo the claims of Airbus – and some car manufacturers – that Brexit will threaten jobs in the UK because it will cause havoc to the just-in-time manufacturing process. Boeing’s plans call for the production of 52 aircraft a month with thousands of parts being shipped every month to Portland, Oregon, so timely delivery will be just as critical to Boeing as it is to Airbus.

So, the question arises: if Boeing can operate a slick production process using parts made in Britain, shipped six times the distance to their assembly line compared to shipping Airbus parts from Bristol or North Wales to Hamburg or Toulouse (and BAE ship 15% of every single F35 Joint Strike Fighter to the Lockheed Martin plant in Dallas), what is Airbus’s problem? The answer lies not in economics but in politics.

As is increasingly clear, despite protestations to the contrary, elements of the EU really do want to punish the UK for having had the insolence to Leave and to deter other countries from following our lead. France seems to be the most determined to press for punishment, partly to try to seize the City of London’s business and partly to promote President Macron as the new EU leader as Angela Merkel’s grip weakens.

Recently there were reports, subsequently denied, that President Macron intended to require UK visitors to France to obtain visas whilst those Brits with homes in France would immediately upon Brexit become illegal visitors. Apparently, the word ‘not’ was omitted in translation and the proposed new law designed to prevent such action. However, Dominic Raab subsequently spoke about the possibility of France ‘deliberately’ delaying lorries entering the port of Calais.

Earlier this year, the EU announced the creation of a fund to develop new defence equipment, a programme from which the UK, home to Europe’s largest defence contractor and with the largest defence budget in Europe, was to be excluded. Furthermore, the UK is to be ejected from key parts of the EU satellite navigation programme, Galileo, despite having contributed £1.2 billion and constituting, through Airbus subsidiary Surrey Satellites, a key portion of the technology. Any reasonable person would ask where was the commercial, let alone defence, interest in excluding such a major European player. Again, the answer lies not in economics but in politics: the UK has to be punished even if it means damaging the defence interests of the continent.

As we approach the sombre commemorations of the centenary of the 1918 armistice which ended The Great War, it is worth pausing to reflect on the role of some of those nations who, in the famous words of Margaret Thatcher, ‘we either rescued or defeated’.  The British people have voted freely but decisively to Leave the EU, yet face punitive measures by some on the continent for whose liberation in two world wars this country and its Empire shed 1,300,000 lives. Whilst falling over themselves to secure favourable trade deals with the rest of the world, the EU’s leaders have adopted the reverse policy with their closest neighbour, refusing to discuss trade arrangements before sorting out an artificial problem of their creation by weaponising the Irish border, a clear solution to which has been proposed by the ERG and others.

In another example of the pathetic approach in Brussels, I understand that the EU’s aviation safety agency, EASA, is debarred from discussing with our CAA how we manage air travel post Brexit.  Given the UK’s prominence in air transport, with Heathrow being the most important transatlantic gateway airport in Europe, why is EASA not engaged in constructive debate? Iceland, Norway and Switzerland are members of EASA even though they are not EU members, so why remove the UK? Again, the answer lies in politics, not economics. They want to cause inconvenience, if not chaos, to rub home to the others the cost of recovering national sovereignty.

All this illustrates the fundamental naivety exhibited by the UK at the outset of the negotiations, namely that if we conceded and acted in a friendly fashion the EU would respond in similar vein, leading many Leave voters to question the motives of those in charge. We never acknowledged the determination of the Commission to protect The Project (to create the United States of Europe) and we failed to recognise the strength of the cards in our hands.

So we threw away the security card, offering unconditional support to the 27, only to be rewarded by exclusion from EU defence programmes. The Prime Minister offered to pay a staggering £39 billion of our money in return for – nothing. Well, if she thinks British taxpayers will tolerate that, I fear she is mistaken. I can no longer withhold my vote in Parliament, but I can withhold my taxes unless I see a fair trade deal is secured.

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