Boris Johnson will say he fears people are becoming “even more determined” in their efforts to stop Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union (EU), as he sets out in a major speech what allies claim is a liberal vision of Brexit.
The Foreign Secretary’s Valentine’s Day address – entitled the Road to Brexit – will be the first in a series of set pieces from Cabinet ministers and preludes Theresa May’s address in Germany this weekend.
At a central London location, Mr Johnson will say he fears that some are becoming “even more determined” to stop Brexit and “frustrate the will of the people”.
“I believe that would be a disastrous mistake that would lead to permanent and ineradicable feelings of betrayal,” Mr Johnson will say. “We cannot and will not let it happen.”
“But if we are to carry this project through to national success – as we must – then we must reach out to those who still have anxieties.
“I want to try today to anatomise at least some of those fears and to show to the best of my ability that they are unfounded, and that the very opposite is usually true: that Brexit is not grounds for fear but hope.”
In an attempt to reach out to those who voted Remain at the 2016 referendum on EU membership, the Foreign Secretary will add: “It is not good enough to say to Remainers – you lost, get over it; because we must accept that many are actuated by entirely noble sentiments, a real sense of solidarity with our European neighbours and a desire for the UK to succeed.”
But Mr Johnson’s speech was immediately seized on by Open Britain, an organisation calling for a soft Brexit, who lashed out at him over his pre-referendum claims.
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The Labour MP Chuka Umunna, a supporter of the group, said the Foreign Secretary is “totally unqualified to preach about the perils of fear” in his speech, adding: “He engaged in disgraceful scaremongering with his ridiculous assertion that Turkey was on the verge of joining the EU and he has already betrayed millions of people by going back on his pledge to secure £350m extra per week for the NHS.”
“This is hypocrisy of the highest order,” he added. “His speech is on Valentine’s Day, not April Fool’s Day.”
The Prime Minister is also expected to deliver a keynote address in Munich on Saturday – after a meeting with the German Chancellor Angela Merkel – on future security ties with the EU after a Brexit. In several weeks’ time, Ms May will make a second speech on the UK’s future relationship with Brussels, following a Cabinet “away day” summit at Chequers.
David Davis, the Brexit Secretary, and Liam Fox, the International Trade Secretary, are also expected to set out their agendas, but the only minister who backed Remain during the 2016 referendum campaign involved in the process is the newly-appointed Cabinet minister David Lidington.
It comes as Philip Hammond, the Chancellor, embarked on a charm offensive across European capitals, meeting counterparts and business leaders ahead of the next round of Brexit negotiations. He is expected to visit Sweden, the Netherlands, Spain and Portugal as part of his tour.
His first stop is Norway – which is outside the EU but is in the European Economic Area and part of the single market, a post-Brexit model rejected by Theresa May because it would not give control over laws or immigration and would require continued payments to Brussels.
Mr Hammond said: “I am taking the message to Europe that, while we are leaving the EU, Britain still cares about its relationships with the countries, citizens and businesses with whom we share a close history and common values.
“We look forward to agreeing a new, deep and special partnership with the EU that keeps our relationship growing strongly in the future.”