The prime minister defended his controversial plans to take powers to renege on key sections of his own Brexit withdrawal agreement (WA) as talks on a trade deal with the EU enter a critical phase.
Johnson also pleaded with MPs not to foster a return to the febrile atmosphere that engulfed parliament last year in the run-up to the December election and the UK’s subsequent exit from the EU in January.
It comes as dozens of rebel Tory MPs line up to support veteran Bob Neill’s amendment to the Internal Market Bill next week, which is designed to introduce a parliamentary veto over Johnson’s controversial plans to go back on the WA.
“We must not go back to the miserable, squabbling days of last autumn,” the PM told MPs in a Zoom conference call on Friday.
“He must be feeling a bit like Julian Assange in the embassy”
He also hinted that the plans were part of a negotiating strategy to get a Canada-style trade deal with the EU in time for the end of the transition period on December 31
“We must support our negotiating position in Brussels,” he said.
MPs were split on Johnson’s performance, with one saying he did “very well” and remained “full square” behind the Bill.
Others however noted the PM did not take questions and appeared to be reading from a script. Some MPs were locked out of the well-attended meeting due to restrictions on numbers.
At one point, Johnson dropped out of the call due to a bad connection, which prompted arch Brexiteer Steve Baker to ask: “Shall I take over?”
Theresa May, who was described as cracking jokes throughout the meeting, raised laughs when she replied: “No.”
Flamboyant backbencher Michael Fabricant then helped fill the gap, which lasted a few minutes, by singing a verse of Rule Britannia. He had the words printed out on his desk, which he then showed to MPs.
One MP quipped that Johnson was like a “prisoner of No.10 without decent wifi”, an apparent reference to chief aide Dominic Cummings’ influence in Downing Street.
“He must be feeling a bit like Julian Assange in the embassy,” they added.
Another said Johnson’s stance was “pure politics” and “part of the negotiation”.
“The EU is playing rough and we are too,” they said.