Boris Johnson has sung the praises of Donald Trump, suggesting the US President would “get somewhere” if handling Brexit as there’s a “method in his madness”.
In what will be seen as a swipe at Theresa May, the Foreign Secretary told a private meeting of Tory activists that Trump would cause “all sorts of chaos” in talks with Brussels, according to BuzzFeed News.
In the recording, published on Thursday evening, Johnson said there’s likely to be a “meltdown” in talks with the EU as discussions get increasingly fraught, and said he thought the Treasury is “basically the heart of Remain”.
The recording, which captures Johnson freewheeling through a rage of topics, includes comments on Putin, the G7, Russia and North Korea.
Some key quotes include:
On Donald Trump
“I am increasingly admiring of Donald Trump. I have become more and more convinced that there is method in his madness.
“Imagine Trump doing Brexit. He’d go in bloody hard. There’d be all sorts of breakdowns, all sorts of chaos.
“Everyone would think he’d gone mad. But actually you might get somewhere. It’s a very, very good thought.”
″… The risk is that we will end up in a sort of anteroom of the EU, with an orbit around the EU, in a customs union and to a large extent in the single market. So not really having full freedom.”
On Vladimir Putin
“Putin feels a deep sense of shame that he’s leader of a country that has been so greatly reduced in its global importance … Putin’s a revanchist. He wants to cause trouble. He wants to upset people like us.”
On May’s plan for Russia at the G7
“She will be putting forward a British plan that will have global support to set up a rapid response unit to identify Russian malfeasance … whether it’s cyber warfare, assassinations, calling it out and identifying it.”
On North Korea
The Americans want Britain to “use our nuclear expertise to dismantle Kim Jong Un’s nuclear missile — that’s what [U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo] asked me to do today.”
Johnson has been one of the strongest government proponents of a ‘hard’ Brexit, but admitted that Brexiteers could be left disappointed by the final deal Britain strikes with the EU.
He also said of Theresa May being “more combative with Brussels”: “You’ve got to face the fact there may now be a meltdown. OK?
“I don’t want anybody to panic during the meltdown. No panic. Pro bono publico, no bloody panic. It’s going to be all right in the end.”
A source close to Johnson said: “This was a private dinner under Chatham House rules so it is sad and very disappointing that it has been covertly recorded and distributed to the media.”
But on Friday, Downing Street said Prime Minister Theresa May still had full confidence in Johnson. A spokeswoman refused to comment on the leaked recording of the Foreign Secretary’s indiscreet assessment of Brexit.
Speaking on the Today programme on Friday, the former Tory leader Michael Howard said the Foreign Minister’s warning of a meltdown was merely apart of the “spills and thrills” of the EU withrdrawal negotiations.
Asked about Mr Johnson’s claim that officials in the Treasury were working against the long-term gains of Brexit, Lord Howard said: “If there are people in the Treasury who are doing that then they shouldn’t be doing that, and I deplore that.”
Howard added: “He’s certainly right to say we shouldn’t panic. I don’t know about a meltdown. I’m not as close to the negotiations as Boris is.
Johnson’s comments are the latest Brexit headache for the Prime Minister, who is in Canada for the G7 summit.
Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, is expected to hold a press conference in Brussels at around 1pm to discuss the latest round of technical talks on the exit process.
Mrs May secured approval from senior ministers for a “backstop” arrangement that could keep the UK in a customs union with the EU beyond the end of 2020.
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But there was no fixed deadline in the document published later, which said only the UK “expects” a final customs solution to be in place by the end of December 2021 at the latest.
The document represents the UK’s counter to an EU proposal to keep Northern Ireland alone in the customs union after Brexit, which was rejected outright by Mrs May because it would draw a border down the Irish Sea.
In a letter to Tory MPs, obtained by The Times, the Prime Minister described the UK proposal as “unpalatable but at worst temporary” and “in no way the Government’s intended or desired” result.
Under the new backstop proposals, if no agreement on customs has been implemented by the end of 2020, a temporary arrangement would ensure that no “tariffs, quotas, rules of origin (or) customs processes” applied to UK-EU trade.
At the same time the UK would be able to strike free trade agreements with other countries.
Mrs May braced herself for possible defeat in the Commons next week on an amendment which would require her to try to negotiate a permanent customs union with the remaining EU.
The PM has rejected most of the amendments made to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill made by peers, accepting only one in full.
Anti-Brexit campaign group Best for Britain has released an open letter to voters calling on them to join the “national conversation” aimed at resolving the “nightmare of Brexit”.
It claims public opinion is shifting on Brexit and published a “roadmap” to a fresh vote with a summer of campaigning planned across 100 constituencies.