Boris Johnson has been ridiculed by senior Tories after he called for a ‘Brexit bridge’ to be built between mainland Britain and Northern Ireland.
The former Foreign Secretary used a newspaper interview to urge the construction of a 25-mile link between Ulster and Scotland to strengthen the United Kingdom once it has quit the EU.
Johnson also told the Sunday Times work on the HS2 rail link should be halted and funds spent instead on northern rail links.
But he was swiftly slapped down by Cabinet ministers Sajid Javid and David Mundell, while even fellow Brexiteer David Davis said it was the latest example of Johnson’s ‘good headlines but not good policies’.
Ex-CBI chief Digby Jones, another Brexiteer, won applause from the party conference in Birmingham when he said that Johnson’s infamous “f*ck business” jibe “showed him up for the irrelevance and offensive person he is”.
Business Secretary Greg Clark told a HuffPost UK fringe meeting that Johnson’s dismissal of business fears about the wrong kind of Brexit was “totally wrong”, adding that any move to stop HS2 would also put at risk regeneration of the West Midlands and elsewhere.
The former Foreign Secretary, who on Friday refused to rule out running for the Tory leadership, quit the Cabinet this year in protest at Theresa May’s ‘Chequers’ compromise plan for Brexit.
However, the backlash against Johnson on Sunday ranged from ridicule to anger among Conservatives keen to rally round the PM.
“What we need to do is build a bridge between our islands. Why don’t we?” he told the Sunday Times.
But within minutes, he was the butt of online jokes from Home Secretary Javid.
Davis told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge: “He wants to cancel HS2 and spend it on a bridge to Northern Ireland. I don’t want to do that.
“I think one of the blights of British politics is politicians having fantastic ideas that cost a fortune and don’t do much good.
“Boris is a great mate of mine, we have a very knockabout friendship, but quite a lot of his ideas, I think, are good headlines but not necessarily good policies.”
Speaking outside a fringe meeting, Scottish Secretary David Mundell said: “These are things for headlines not for the substance of negotiations.
“Mr Johnson was able to contribute when he was in the Cabinet. He has chosen to leave the Cabinet. I would rather he rallied round the PM as she takes forward these difficult negotiations.”
A new HuffPostUK/BMG poll on Sunday suggested that Johnson would lose a general election to Jeremy Corbyn.
When asked who they would prefer as next PM, 29% of those polled backed Corbyn, compared with 25% who said Johnson. In answer to the same question comparing May and Corbyn, May beats Corbyn 27% to 25%.
Johnson allegedly dismissed business worries over Brexit at a Foreign Office reception earlier this year, declaring ‘f*ck business’.
Clark told HuffPost’s WaughZone Live event: “That was totally the wrong thing to say, and I was shocked to hear it”.
And referring to the HS2 project, he said: “One of the besetting criticisms, I think, of successive governments in the UK is that we haven’t got on and invested in supporting infrastructure for the economy. We’ve made a decision to invest in HS2 - I think it’s important that we follow through with that.”
Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson said it was time for Johnson, who has also called for a bridge between the UK and France, to stop proposing outlandish ideas.
She attacked his claim that the Chequers plan was ‘demented’ and his suggestion he had been misled into accepting the EU’s plan for a ‘backstop’ to solve the Northern Ireland border issue.
“What I think is strange about some of the attacks that are in the newspapers today is this is someone who was praising what the Prime Minister brought home in terms of moving on to the next stage last December, someone who was in one of the great offices of state, who was sitting round the Cabinet table who now says that he was in some way deceived,” Davidson told Sky News.