Jo Johnson threatened to shatter Theresa May’s delicate efforts to strike a Brexit deal tonight as he dramatically quit and demanded a fresh referendum.
The Orpington MP, brother of Boris Johnson, said that the emerging package – which the PM hopes to finalise within days – was a massive failure in British statecraft on the scale of Suez.
He said the ‘reality’ of what was being negotiated was far from what had been promised during the referendum campaign in 2016, and the country was faced with a ‘terrible’ choice between ‘vassalage and chaos’.
‘We are barreling towards an incoherent Brexit,’ he said.
The resignation is a massive blow for Mrs May – who is taking part in Armistice events in France today and apparently had no advance warning. There are claims that other senior figures could be on the brink of following Mr Johnson out of the door.
It comes amid mounting domestic pressure from all sides, as the DUP vows to torpedo her government if she bows to EU demands on the Irish border ‘backstop’.
The departure triggered an extraordinary show of unity in the Johnson clan – which has been engaged in a bitter public fued over Brexit. Within minutes Boris tweeted that despite their differences he had ‘boundless admiration as ever for my brother Jo’. Sister Rachel and father Stanley also voiced support
A Downing Street spokesman dismissed the call for another national vote: ‘The referendum in 2016 was the biggest democratic exercise in this country’s history. We will not under any circumstances have a second referendum.
‘The Prime Minister thanks Jo Johnson for his work in Government.’
Jo Johnson (pictured at Westminster tonight) delivered another devastating blow to Theresa May’s authority as he resigned over Brexit
Mr Johnson said he was resigning from the government ‘with great regret’
Orpington MP Mr Johnson said that the package being finalised was a massive failure on the scale of the Suez crisis
The resignation is a massive blow for Theresa May – who was taking part in Armistice events in France and Belgium today (pictured left) and apparently had no advance warning. But it was hailed by Boris Johnson (right) who said he had ‘boundless’ respect for his brother
Mrs May has now suffered an eye-watering 18 resignations since becoming PM in 2016 – although only a handful have been over Brexit.
Philip Lee, who is among those who did quit over the EU process, urged other Tories to show the same ‘courage’.
‘Following @JoJohnson’s resignation I call upon my fellow MPs to show the same courage. We must allow our constituents to have a #FinalSay on Brexit. We must speak up now,’ he said.
Boris’s ‘quieter and cleverer’ younger brother who has caused a storm for May
The younger brother of Boris Johnson has been described as ‘quieter and cleverer’ than his older sibling.
While Boris started his education in England, Jo didn’t start school until after the family had moved the Brussels when their father Stanley got a job with the European Commission.
Jo therefore first took classes as European School in Uccle in the south of the Belgian capital. Both brothers became fluent in French during their childhood years on the continent.
Both he and Boris later went to Eton College and then Balliol College, Oxford, Boris studying classics, Jo studying modern history.
Jo, like Boris, was a member of the notorious Bullingdon Club, a drinking society known for its wanton acts of drunken vandalism, and numbering Oxford’s wealthiest undergraduates among its members.
Jo did his postgraduate studies in Europe and has degrees from two further European universities.
Boris went into journalism after graduating, working for the Times and the Daily Telegraph, Jo meanwhile became an investment banker at Deutsche Bank, before also becoming a journalist at the Financial Times, working in Paris and South East Asia before editing the influential finance column, Lex.
Jo married Amelia Gentleman, a reporter for the Left-wing Guardian in 2005.
The brothers both then went into politics, Boris being elected as MP for Henley in 2001.
Nine years later in 2010, Jo stood as the Conservative candidate in Orpington, south-west London and won with a 19,000 vote majority.
In a statement on his website, Mr Johnson – who had a big hand in writing the Tories’ 2015 manifesto that pledged to honour the referendum result – said: ‘Although I voted Remain, I have desperately wanted the Government, in which I have been proud to serve, to make a success of Brexit: to reunite our country, our party and, yes, my family too.
‘At times, I believed this was possible. That’s why I voted to start the Article 50 process and for two years have backed the Prime Minister in her efforts to secure the best deal for the country.
‘But it has become increasingly clear to me that the Withdrawal Agreement, which is being finalised in Brussels and Whitehall even as I write, will be a terrible mistake.’
He added: ‘To present the nation with a choice between two deeply unattractive outcomes, vassalage and chaos, is a failure of British statecraft on a scale unseen since the Suez crisis.
‘My constituents in Orpington deserve better than this from their Government.’
Mr Johnson, who was demoted from universities minister earlier this year after a botched attempt to install Toby Young on a watchdog, called for a second Brexit referendum.
‘Given that the reality of Brexit has turned out to be so far from what was once promised, the democratic thing to do is to give the public the final say,’ he said.
‘This would not be about re-running the 2016 referendum, but about asking people whether they want to go ahead with Brexit now that we know the deal that is actually available to us, whether we should leave without any deal at all or whether people on balance would rather stick with the deal we already have inside the European Union.’
Boris Johnson, said that although their views were starkly different, they had come to the same conclusion about the package on offer.
‘We may not have agreed about Brexit but we are united in dismay at the intellectually and politically indefensible UK position,’ he wrote.
‘This is not taking back control. It is a surrender of control. It does not remotely correspond to the mandate of the people in June 2016,’
Mr Johnson’s sister, television personality Rachel Johnson, tweeted: ‘Am hugely proud of my honourable and principled brother Jo who has put the interests of the country ahead of his political career.’
Best for Britain chief Eloise Todd urged other minister to follow suit.
‘This is an incredibly brave move from Jo Johnson at a time when the public desperately needs more MPs to act in the national interest,’ she said.
‘We’ve been hurtling towards a blindfolded Brexit for too long, so it’s about time that politicians hand back control to the people of this country by giving them the final say on Brexit – with the option to stay and lead in Europe.’
Brexit has proved a painful dividing in the Johnson family.
While Boris ended up spearheading the Leave campaign, both Jo and Rachel were trenchant Remainers.
Their father Stanley also fought for a Remain victory – but has since suggested he has changed his mind.
Mr Johnson senior said last month that EU commission president Jean-Claude Juncker’s state of the union address, hailing the prospect of Brussels having its own army, had convinced the bloc was headed ‘in a direction we don’t really want to go’.
Theresa May has held talks with Emmanuel Macron over lunch in the French town of Albert today before attending Armistice commemorations
Boris Johnson, said that although their views were starkly different, they had come to the same conclusion about the package on offer
The 18 ministers who have resigned from May’s government
Lord Bridges – Brexit differences
Lord Price – pursue other interests
Baroness Anelay – health issues
Michael Fallon – conduct claims
Priti Patel – secret Israel meetings
Damian Green – conduct claims
John Hayes – to speak out on issues backbencher
Justine Greening – refused to be moved in reshuffle
Amber Rudd – Misled MPs during Windrush row
Philip Lee – Brexit
Greg Hands – To oppose Heathrow expansion
David Davis – Brexit
Steve Baker – Brexit
Boris Johnson – Brexit
Guto Bebb – Brexit
Andrew Griffiths – conduct issue
Tracey Crouch – Gambling machine crackdown delay
Jo Johnson – Brexit
Jo Johnson’s 1,600 word dismantling of May’s Brexit plan in resignation statement
Jo Johnson set out his reasons for resigning from Theresa May’s administration in a 1,647-word article under the title ‘Why I cannot support the Government’s proposed Brexit deal’.
The Orpington MP warned that the UK was ‘on the brink of the greatest crisis since the Second World War’ and said that an attempt to force Brexit through without a second referendum would ‘do grave damage to our democracy’.
Mr Johnson, who supported Remain in the 2016 referendum, said that the Brexit debate had divided the country and divided families such as his own, as brother Boris led the Leave campaign.
He said he had supported Mrs May’s efforts to make a success of Brexit in the hope that it would ‘reunite our country, our party and, yes, my family too’.
But he added: ‘It has become increasingly clear to me that the Withdrawal Agreement, which is being finalised in Brussels and Whitehall even as I write, will be a terrible mistake.
‘Indeed, the choice being presented to the British people is no choice at all.’
The Orpington MP warned that the UK was ‘on the brink of the greatest crisis since the Second World War’
The Government’s plans would ‘leave our country economically weakened, with no say in the EU rules it must follow and years of uncertainty for business’, he said.
But leaving without a deal would ‘inflict untold damage on our nation’.
Mr Johnson said: ‘To present the nation with a choice between two deeply unattractive outcomes, vassalage and chaos, is a failure of British statecraft on a scale unseen since the Suez crisis.’
Brexiteers’ hopes of a quick and easy trade deal had proved to be ‘delusions’ and the Government has failed to secure any agreement on future trade relations, he said.
‘All that is now being finalised is the agreement to pay the EU tens of billions of pounds.
‘All that may be on offer on trade is the potential for an agreement to stay in a temporary customs arrangement while we discuss the possibility of an EU trade deal that all experience shows will take many years to negotiate.’
Even if agreement was reached on trade in goods, the service sector was vulnerable to a deal reducing access to European markets and to regulatory changes imposed from Brussels over which the UK would have no influence.
‘While we wait to negotiate trading terms, the rules of the game will be set solely by the EU,’ warned Mr Johnson.
‘Britain will lose its seat at the table and its ability to amend or vote down rules it opposes.
‘Instead of Britain ‘taking back control’, we will cede control to other European countries.
‘This democratic deficit inherent in the Prime Minister’s proposal is a travesty of Brexit… The Government’s proposals will see us out of Europe, yet run by Europe, bound by rules which we will have lost a hand in shaping.’
Mr Johnson said there was ‘no real clarity’ in the Government’s plans for how the situation would ever end, with the potential for a ‘boundless transitionary period’ while future relations are negotiated.
‘This is a con on the British people,’ he said. ‘There is no evidence that the kind of Brexit that we’ve failed to negotiate while we are still members can be magically agreed once the UK has lost its seat at the table.’
Mr Johnson said his brother Boris was ‘as unhappy with the Government’s proposals as I am’ and was right to argue that they amounted to a deal which was ‘substantially worse than staying in the EU’.
‘If these negotiations have achieved little else, they have at least united us in fraternal dismay,’ he wrote.
Mr Johnson said that Mrs May was unable to argue that her proposals were better than EU membership, only that they would not be as bad for the UK as leaving without a deal. A no-deal Brexit would risk ‘chaos’ and cause ‘disruption, delay and deep damage to our economy’, with questions about the supply of fresh food and medicine and a real risk of Kent becoming ‘the lorry park of England’.
But he said no-deal ‘may well be better than the never-ending purgatory the Prime Minister is offering the country’.
And he said it would be a ‘grave mistake’ for Mrs May to use the threat of a no-deal withdrawal to win parliamentary support for her plans.
‘Inflicting such serious economic and political harm on the country will leave an indelible impression of incompetence in the minds of the public,’ he said.
‘It cannot be what (Leave campaigners) wanted nor did the 2016 referendum provide any mandate for it.’
Declaring his intention to vote against Mrs May’s proposals, Mr Johnson said: ‘Britain stands on the brink of the greatest crisis since the Second World War. My loyalty to my party is undimmed. I have never rebelled on any issue before now.
‘But my duty to my constituents and our great nation has forced me to act. ‘
He concluded: ‘On this most crucial of questions, I believe it is entirely right to go back to the people and ask them to confirm their decision to leave the EU and, if they choose to do that, to give them the final say on whether we leave with the Prime Minister’s deal or without it.
‘To do anything less will do grave damage to our democracy.’