Downing Street has backed Boris Johnson in the face of calls for his dismissal after he was recorded accusing the Treasury of being intent on sacrificing the long-term gains of Brexit.
In the private speech to the Conservative Way Forward group, Johnson is heard dismissing the cautious approach of Philip Hammond’s Treasury, which he said had focused on “mumbo jumbo” predictions about short-term disruption, instead of the potential gains from leaving the EU. He also portrayed Treasury as “the heart of remain.”
Theresa May still has full confidence in Johnson, a Downing Street spokeswoman said on Friday. But she refused to comment further on the leaked recording.
Labour and the Scottish National party have both called on May to sack Johnson over the remarks.
Earlier on Friday, the former Conservative leader Michael Howard, who, like Johnson, is a leading Brexiter but not one of his allies after firing him from his shadow cabinet, said the foreign secretary was right to criticise the Treasury.
“That fear of short-term disruption has become so huge in people’s minds that it’s turning them all wet,” he said. “Project Fear is really working on them.”
What Boris Johnson said in leaked recording of speech
Deep divisions in the cabinet over Brexit have been exposed in a secret recording of a speech Boris Johnson gave to the Conservative Way Forward group. Here are his most contentious comments on …
“Imagine Trump doing Brexit. He’d go in bloody hard … There’d be all sorts of breakdowns, all sorts of chaos. Everyone would think he’d gone mad. But actually you might get somewhere. It’s a very, very good thought.”
Meltdown over Brexit
“You’ve got to face the fact there may now be a meltdown. OK? I don’t want anybody to panic during the meltdown. No panic. Pro bono publico, no bloody panic. It’s going to be all right in the end.”
“The inner struggle is very, very difficult. The Treasury, which is basically the heart of remain, has seized the risk — what they don’t want is friction at the borders. They don’t want any disruption. So they’re sacrificing all the medium and long-term gains amid fear of short-term disruption. Do you see what I’m saying?
“And that fear of short-term disruption has become so huge in people’s minds that they’re turning them all wet. Project Fear is really working on them. They’re terrified of this nonsense. It’s all mumbo jumbo.”
“The risk is that it will not be the [Brexit] we want and the risk is that we will end up in a sort of ante-room of the EU, with an orbit around the EU, in a customs union and to a large extent in the single market. So not really having full freedom on our trade policy, our tariffs schedules, and not having freedom with our regulatory framework either, in the lunar pull of the EU.
“What they are trying to do is do a Brexit that does as little change as possible and that keeps us basically in the same orbital pull … and that would be the worst of both worlds.”
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Howard said: “If there are people in the Treasury who are doing that, then they shouldn’t be, and I deplore that.”
He also played down the divisions in the cabinet that the secret recording exposed as the “spills and thrills” of the Brexit negotiations.
Howard claimed Johnson was joking when he spoke approvingly of a imaginary scenario in which Donald Trump was leading the Brexit talks.
Johnson was recorded saying: “He’d go in bloody hard … There’d be all sorts of breakdowns, all sorts of chaos. Everyone would think he’d gone mad. But actually you might get somewhere. It’s a very, very good thought.”
Johnson said he had become “increasingly admiring of Donald Trump” and has become “convinced that there is method in his madness”.
Asked about the Trump comments, Howard said: “That is a thought I would prefer not to entertain. I suspect he had his tongue in his cheek when he said it.”
In his speech, Johnson urged Tory donors not to panic during a likely “meltdown” over Brexit. Howard said: “He is certainly right to say we shouldn’t panic. I don’t know about a meltdown I’m not as close to the negotiations as Boris is. But there always going to be thrills and spills and what we have to do is to focus on the essentials of the situation.”
The Tory grandee attacked remainers on the Conservative backbenches for trying to “nudge” the prime minister into staying in the customs union.
Michael Howard: ‘If there are people in the Treasury who are doing that, then they shouldn’t be.’ Photograph: Sky News
He said: “She is not going to be nudged through the back door. She is going to stick to what she has said, which is that we will leave the customs union and we leave the single market and we have to do that to capture the advantages of Brexit.”
The shadow foreign secretary, Emily Thornberry, repeated a call she first made last November for her opposite number to be dismissed.
As I was saying to Boris Johnson in November… pic.twitter.com/qFL1KWe6ru
June 8, 2018
Earlier, Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, also called for Johnson to go. Speaking to BBC News, she said: “Any prime minister that had any semblance of authority would have got rid of Boris Johnson a long time ago, not just because of comments like this … I just don’t think Boris Johnson is somebody who should be in one of the high offices of state.”