Theresa May. Picture: REUTERS
Theresa May. Picture: REUTERS

London — Britain’s Boris Johnson strongly criticised Prime Minister Theresa May’s latest Brexit proposal in typically colourful terms before agreeing with his colleagues to back the compromise on Friday, reports said.

The foreign minister, a leading supporter of a decisive break by Britain from the EU, said May’s "business-friendly" plan was a "big turd" that would need to be "polished" in order to be sold to the public, the BBC said.

Johnson made his comments during eight hours of talks at May’s country residence that ended with the cabinet, including Johnson, signing up to the plan. It was a hard-won victory. The Sunday Times said seven of the 27 ministers present spoke out against the plan.

Environment Minister Michael Gove, an ally of Johnson in the EU referendum campaign in 2016, defended the plan on Sunday, saying it honoured May’s negotiating red lines and met the demands of business even if it did not match all the hopes of anti-EU campaigners.

"I am a realist," Gove told the BBC. "One of the things about politics is that you mustn’t, you shouldn’t, make the perfect the enemy of the good. And one of the things about this compromise is that it unites the cabinet."

May’s plan pushes for a free-trade area for goods and continued close ties with the EU.

Free-trade agreement

Gove said it would give Britain autonomy from EU institutions and structures, while also having a free-trade agreement that would work in the interest of business.

"In all of the important areas where an independent country chooses to exercise sovereignty, Britain will be able to do so," Gove said, adding the plan respected the referendum result.

But there were signs of a backlash among some MPs from May’s Conservative Party, including leading anti-EU campaigner Jacob Rees-Mogg, who said the proposal could be worse than Britain leaving the bloc with no deal.

"That is not something that this country voted for, it is not what the prime minister promised," he told BBC radio.

Opposition Labour Party Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer said May’s proposal had "fudge written all over it". The customs arrangements at the heart of the proposal were "unworkable" and a "bureaucratic nightmare that was not going to work".

May’s proposal had not met Labour’s demands for a comprehensive customs union and a single-market deal with shared institutions and regulations, Starmer said.

The compromise is not certain to go down well in Brussels. EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier welcomed the agreement on Friday but added on Twitter: "We will assess proposals to see if they are workable and realistic."


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