Boris Johnson to 'hold out the hand' for new Brexit deal


July 29, 2019 - 101 views

Boris Johnson has pledged to "hold out the hand" and "go the extra thousand miles" to strike a new Brexit deal.

During a visit to Scotland, the prime minister said the existing withdrawal agreement negotiated with European leaders was "dead" and has "got to go".

However, he said he wanted the UK to be "very outward going" and said there was "every chance we can get a deal".

Preparations for a no-deal Brexit are being ramped up with Mr Johnson saying the UK must leave the EU by 31 October.

While in Scotland he is also expected to meet First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson - both of whom have positioned themselves against a no-deal exit.

Two committees have been set up as the UK government intensifies preparations for a possible no-deal exit, including a "daily operations committee" of senior ministers.

Speaking at the Faslane naval base near Glasgow, Mr Johnson said his "assumption is that we can get a new deal", but said it was "responsible for any government to prepare for no deal if we absolutely have to".

'Withdrawal agreement is dead'

He said: "My approach is to be very outward-going, I don't want the UK to be aloof or hanging back, I want us to engage to hold out the hand, to go the extra thousand miles, and what we want to do is make it absolutely clear that the backstop is no good, it's dead, it's got to go.

"The withdrawal agreement is dead, it's got to go. But there is scope for us to do a new deal.

"We will make it very clear to our friends - we're talking to the Irish today - what the limits are and what we want to do. We're very confident that with goodwill on both sides, two mature political entities, the UK and EU, can get this thing done."

Boris Johnson on a submarineImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionMr Johnson announced a new Office for Veterans' Affairs while visiting the Faslane naval base

Mr Johnson also said he thought "Brussels was a bit baffled by what the UK position really was" during previous Brexit talks, saying the "backstop" arrangement to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland would have seen the UK "being run by the EU".

He said a new agreement could be struck if there was "goodwill and common sense" on both sides, resulting in "a new free trade deal that allows us to take back control of our tariffs and regulations and do things differently here if we want to".

'I won't support it'

Mr Johnson will face scrutiny over his Brexit strategy from colleagues and opponents alike during his visit to Scotland.

On Sunday, Ms Davidson said that while Mr Johnson had her "full support" in his efforts to secure a withdrawal agreement with the EU, she did not agree with a no-deal Brexit.

Writing in the Scottish Mail on Sunday, she said: "When I was debating against the pro-Brexit side in 2016, I don't remember anybody saying we should crash out of the EU with no arrangements in place to help maintain the vital trade that flows uninterrupted between Britain and the European Union."

"I don't think the government should pursue a no-deal Brexit and, if it comes to it, I won't support it."

Presentational grey line

Is Davidson meeting the PM's trickiest task in Scotland?

Analysis by BBC Scotland Editor Sarah Smith

Ruth DavidsonImage copyrightPA MEDIA
Image captionRuth Davidson said she backed Mr Johnson as prime minister but would not give her support to a no-deal Brexit

Boris Johnson's toughest meeting may not be with Nicola Sturgeon, but with the Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson.

Ms Davidson made no secret of the fact that she did not want Mr Johnson as PM. And in the few days since he took charge relations have already gone further south.

He ignored his Scottish leader's advice not to sack the Scottish Secretary David Mundell and replace him with the pro-Brexit MP Alister Jack. He then further snubbed the Scottish contingent of parliamentarians when he put an MP who sits for an English seat into the Scotland office as a minister.

Ms Davidson has said publicly that she would not support a no-deal exit from the EU and that as leader of the Scottish party she does not have to sign up to any loyalty pledge to support a no deal.

She believes the PM would have sacked her if he could. But he can't - and she will take full advantage of her ability to speak out in public when they meet in private in Edinburgh later.

Read more from Sarah here

Presentational grey line

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has also pledged to fight against a no-deal exit, saying it would cost 100,000 jobs and "plunge the economy into recession".

Speaking ahead of an expected meeting with Mr Johnson on Monday, she said: "The people of Scotland did not vote for this Tory government, they didn't vote for this new prime minister, they didn't vote for Brexit and they certainly didn't vote for a catastrophic no-deal Brexit which Boris Johnson is now planning for.

"Scotland has been ignored throughout the Brexit process and it is now time for everyone who cares about the future of Scotland to come together to chart our own course and say to the Tories - stop driving our country towards disaster."

'Passionate believer'

Mr Johnson also used his trip to Scotland to announce new funding for "growth deal" investment plans in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

He said it was "vital we renew the ties that bind our United Kingdom", describing himself as "a passionate believer in our great union".

The prime minister also plans to go to Wales to meet members of its farming community and Northern Ireland to discuss ongoing efforts to restore devolution at Stormont.

Nicola Sturgeon in ShetlandImage copyrightPA MEDIA
Image captionNicola Sturgeon is back in Edinburgh to meet Mr Johnson after a weekend campaigning in Shetland ahead of a Holyrood by-election

The funds announced on Monday will go towards projects to boost the economy in Falkirk, the islands and Argyll and Bute in Scotland, as well as to parts of Northern Ireland and Wales.

However Scottish Finance Secretary Derek Mackay claimed the £300m "isn't new funding" and was already under negotiation before Mr Johnson became prime minister.

He said: "This was all in the pipeline anyway, so it's really recycled finance which is a totally unimpressive announcement from a prime minister that wants to reset a relationship with Scotland."

Welsh Labour also hit out at the funding plans, calling them "very thin stuff" which would not make up for a "chronic lack of investment".

Veterans Affairs Office

The UK government, however, insisted the money was new, with Scottish Secretary Alister Jack praising city deals as "helping to create jobs and boost local economies".

Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith said he looked forward to "making the most" of the funding, while Welsh Secretary Alun Cairns said he and Mr Johnson were committed to building on the "successes" of the growth deals already in place across Wales.

The growth deal plan comes after Mr Johnson announced a £3.6bn towns fund over the weekend, which will initially support 100 locations in England.

As part of his visit to Scotland, the prime minister also announced plans for a new Office for Veterans' Affairs within the UK government, to coordinate medical treatment and training and "ensure no veteran is disadvantaged because of their service".

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