Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson: leaving on 29 March is the only way to preserve the UK’s self-respect

Boris Johnson: leaving on 29 March is the only way to preserve the UK's self-respect
Text settings

This article is a edited version of Boris Johnson's speech in parliament today:

I myself had sincerely hoped that the government would be able to make the wholly modest changes that this House urged them to make and that there would be no risk that this country would find itself trapped in the backstop, and no risk that we would lose our democratic right to make laws for this country or pass them to a foreign entity for all time - as we are now in danger of doing.

But whatever the government tried to do it has not I'm afraid succeeded. No, I congratulate the prime minister and the Attorney General on their efforts. The result is that like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden they have sowed an apron of fig leaves that does nothing to conceal the embarrassment and indignity of the UK. And as the Attorney General has confirmed in his admirably honest advice, this backstop doesn't just divide our country in fundamental ways. It ties our hands for the future and it sets us on a path to a subordinate relationship with the EU, which is still a despite what we were told yesterday, clearly based on the Customs Union and on a large parts of the Single Market.

I have certainly visited the places in Northern Ireland, and indeed in the times of the troubles and I can tell you that nobody wants those types of border controls to come back. Least of all the government of Dublin or of London or indeed in Brussels. By the way nobody thinks it is necessary under any circumstances for hard border controls to return in Northern Ireland. But what I think people will want is for this country to have the unilateral right of exit from the backstop. And that is not what the British people are getting out of this deal.

I want to stress this point, because I cannot really accept the repeated assertion of the Attorney General in his very powerful speech this afternoon, that there is a minimal legal risk of us being trapped in the prison of the backstop. Because it is now more than a year since I stood in Downing Street and in Number 10 and was told there was a minimal legal risk that we would even have to enter the backstop. And that is not a view that I believe could be plausibly now defended by the government.

It was always infantile to pretend that there was no risk of getting into the backstop because that was for a long time the contention of those who proposed that the backstop should be instituted. I'm afraid that this this deal has now reached the end of the road and if it is rejected tonight I hope that it will be put to bed and that we can all face up to the reality of the position and the opportunity that we have and what we need to do now is to behave not timorously, but as a great country does.

We have broadly two options: we can either decide that if the EU is unwilling to accept the minor changes that we propose that we will leave without you. And yes, I accept that in the short term this is the more difficult road. But in the end it's the only safe route out of the abyss and the only safe path to self respect. Or we can decide to take a route that will end in humiliation, accepting arrangements with the EU which seem to limit disruption in the short term, but will leave us as an EU protectorate with many important rules set elsewhere. The commission has already made clear that it wants to use the passerelle clause of the treaty to bring in the existing treaty, to bring in qualified majority voting on taxation, and we will be subject to that under a qualified majority vote in which we in this country would not participate. And I urge honourable members to think hard and to see that that predicament would be democratically intolerable. We would have to tell our constituents they had no power and no influence in the setting of some of the rules that govern our country.

Under this deal, we would lose the power to decide what tariffs we would levy on the perimeter of the UK. And I know that the most powerful argument that has been made this afternoon, is to do with the the threat that some honourable and right honourable members are ready, apparently, to hijack the longstanding rules of the house in order to take our constitution hostage with parliament to direct the executive in international relations. And I have to say that upends hundreds of years of constitutional practice and makes a nonsense of relations between parliament and the government. I believe it would lead to an even greater gap between people and this place. Let's abandon that project of dismantling our constitution in the name of making this country an effective colony of the EU and I think what we should do instead is take what now seems to be the more difficult route, but in the end the only one that preserves our self-respect. It is to leave as we are required by law, on 29 March and to become once again an independent country able to make our own choices.

I'm not in favour of crashing out as many call it. The Malthouse compromise indicates the way forward: the UK observes single market rules, customs and duties, and we restrain our right to compete for a period of three years whilst we negotiate a free trade deal. I believe the EU would be open to this and as we come to the final stages it is absolutely vital that we retain our freedom of manoeuvre and we do not therefore rule out no deal. A delay would achieve nothing except to compound the uncertainties of business. Now is the time to behave as what we are: the fifth biggest economy in the world. The second biggest military power in NATO. By many counts the most influential cultural and intellectual force in Europe, and not to accept what I believe would be a humiliation and the subordination of our democracy.