LONDON (AP) – Former British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has compared Prime Minister Theresa May’s plan for Brexit to putting the country’s constitution in a “suicide vest” and handing the detonator to the European Union (EU) – remarks that drew condemnation from colleagues yesterday.
The attack, and Johnson’s choice of metaphor, widened the divide in the governing Conservative Party over Brexit.
Johnson, a strong supporter of Brexit, quit May’s government in July after rejecting her proposal for close economic ties with the bloc after the United Kingdom (UK) leaves next year. His article in the Mail yesterday ramped up speculation that he plans to challenge her leadership.
Johnson said May’s plan, which would keep the UK aligned to EU regulations in return for free trade in goods, was a “humiliation” and amounted to “agreeing to take EU rules, with no say on those rules”.
He also said that by agreeing that the UK’s Northern Ireland must effectively remain in a customs union with the bloc in order to avoid a hard border with EU member Ireland, “we have wrapped a suicide vest around the British constitution – and handed the detonator” to the EU.
Foreign Office Minister Alan Duncan tweeted that the comments marked “one of the most disgusting moments in modern British politics” and should be “the political end of Boris Johnson”.
Conservative lawmaker Tom Tugendhat, a former army officer, said on Twitter that he had seen the aftermath of a suicide bombing in Afghanistan, and “comparing the PM to that isn’t funny.” He said that Johnson should “grow up.”
Tousle-headed Johnson is a popular but divisive figure known for Latin quips and verbal blunders.
After Britain’s 2016 EU membership referendum, Johnson pulled out of a race to lead the Conservatives, which was won by May. His increasingly vocal attacks on the Prime Minister suggest that he wants a second shot at the top job.
Last week, Johnson and his wife Marina Wheeler announced they were divorcing after 25 years of marriage – a move some saw as an attempt to neutralise potential stories about his private life before a leadership campaign.
Johnson’s relationships have landed him in trouble in the past. In 2004, he was fired as Conservative Vice Chairman after lying about an extramarital affair.
His personal life was back in the headlines yesterday, with tabloids running stories about Johnson’s relationship with a former Conservative staffer.