POLITICS

George Osborne Says Brits Did Not Vote For 'Hard Brexit' As He Hits Out At 'Naive' Leave Campaigners

Former Chancellor takes a subtle swipe at Boris Johnson

23/09/2016 12:18
Peter Byrne/PA Wire

George Osborne claimed “hard Brexit” did not win a majority in the EU referendum as he hit out against the “take-or-leave it bravado” of Leave campaigners.

In a speech due to be given in Chicago, the former Chancellor lambasted those who believed the EU would give the UK everything it wanted from a Brexit deal.

Osborne, who was one of Remain’s most high profile campaigners, acknowledged that current rules over freedom of movement would have to change but warned other “obligations” would have to be met in order to get EU “benefits”.

Prime Minister Theresa May has repeatedly claimed “Brexit means Brexit”, but the Government is yet to reveal if it will be trying to keep the UK in the Single Market, or what terms its access would be.

Osborne was due to give a speech to The Chicago Council on Global Affairs on Thursday, but it was cancelled due to flight delays.

However, the organisation put his speech up online, revealing he was due to say: “We shouldn’t assume that there is an off-the-shelf arrangement that works for the second largest economy in Europe - I can’t see us consenting to the current arrangements around free movement of people that clearly caused such concern in the referendum.

“Equally, I find some of the take-or-leave it bravado we hear from those who assume Europe has no option but to give us everything we want more than a little naïve.

“We need to be realistic that this is a two-way relationship: that Britain cannot expect to maintain all the benefits that came from EU membership without incurring any of the costs or the obligations.

“There will have to be compromise.

“Above all, we need to resist the false logic that leads from exiting the EU to exiting all forms of European co-operation - and that values the dangerous purity of splendid isolation over the practical necessity of co-operation in the real world.

“Brexit won a majority. Hard Brexit did not.”

Osborne also claimed the referendum was not a “was not a popular mandate for less free trade or for a more closed economy.”

His comments came as one of his key allies in Government, Lord O’Neill, resigned from his position as Commercial Secretary to the Treasury.

The Financial Times reported last month that O’Neill - who coined the phrase BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) - was on the brink of quitting over May’s reluctance to give the Hinkley Point deal the go ahead.

An ardent advocate of staying in the EU, he worried her attitude to China risked undermining the UK post Brexit

In a letter to Theresa May, O’Neill said he originally joined the Government two years ago “for the specific purpose of helping deliver the Northern Powerhouse and to help boost our economic ties with key growing economies around the world, especially China and India and other rapidly emerging economies.”

He wrote: “The case for both to be at the heart of British economic policy is even stronger following the referendum, and I am pleased that, despite speculation to the contrary, both appear to be commanding your personal attention.”

Addressing those points in her response, the Prime Minister said: “You have laid important foundations in these areas, and the Government will build on them.”

On Thursday, Downing Street slapped down Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson – who campaigned for Brexit - for claiming the official exit process could begin early next year.

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