Boris Johnson launched a fresh attack on the Prime Minister’s “humiliating” Chequers plan for Brexit as he made a surprise appearance at the launch of a Brexiteer event yesterday.
The former foreign secretary ignored pleas from friends to keep a low profile following disclosures about his private life and sat front and centre at the launch of an alternative Brexit plan.
Mr Johnson threw his weight behind a report by the Economists for Free Trade group that claimed leaving the EU on World Trade Organisation terms would provide a £1.1 trillion boost to the economy over 15 years.
The economic forecasts were savaged by Philip Hammond, the Chancellor, who said they were “wildly out of line” with other economists and “not sustainable”.
Mr Johnson sat front and centre at the event in one of Parliament’s committee rooms and was applauded when his presence was noted by Brexit-supporting MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, who introduced the 22-page report.
He refused to answer questions about whether he had attended the event as part of a plan to seize the Tory leadership from Theresa May, but could not resist answering questions from journalists about Mrs May’s Brexit plan.
Mr Johnson told reporters: “This is absolutely nothing to do with [the leadership].
“This is all about trying to change the position on the European Union negotiations, which at the moment I think are verging on the humiliating for this country.”
He repeated previous claims that Chequers would turn Britain into a “vassal state” and claimed the proposal would be “substantially worse than the status quo”.
It was the first time Mr Johnson had taken part in a public event since he announced last week that he and his wife Marina were divorcing, which was followed by claims that he had grown close to Carrie Symonds, a 30-year-old former party worker.
Mr Rees-Mogg, the leader of the European Research Group of Brexiteer Tory MPs, said the furore over Mr Johnson’s private life would have no effect on the Brexiteers’ campaign to kill off Chequers.
He said: “Society at large does not consider people’s private lives. They are the most concerned about this political and constitutional issue.
“He will be neither the first nor the last person to have issues with their private life. I don’t judge other people on how they live their lives.”
They were joined at the event by other senior Tories including former leader Iain Duncan Smith, former Brexit secretary David Davis and his ex-deputy Steve Baker, and former environment secretary Owen Paterson.
The EFT report argued that leaving the EU on World Trade Organisation terms would not be a leap in the dark but rather a “leap into the normal” because Britain already trades with more than 100 countries under WTO rules.
It also suggested that if Britain left the EU without a trade deal in place, it “actually makes a better trade deal with the EU more likely later” by allowing more time for the details to be worked out.
It also suggested tax cuts by the early 2020s as a result of leaving the EU with no deal, citing a huge increase in tax receipts from increased trade with the rest of the world.
Mr Rees-Mogg claimed that leaving the EU on WTO terms would enable tariff-free trade with other countries that would lead to an 8 per cent cut in food prices.
But Mr Hammond ridiculed the EFT document, titled A World Trade Deal, when he gave evidence to a committee of MPs later in the afternoon.
Mr Rees-Mogg hit back, saying: “All the Treasury’s figures so far have been complete invention. One might say that people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.”
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