Boris Johnson has chosen Valentine’s Day to make a speech delivering a tough and tender message on Brexit – and urging supporters and opponents to kiss and make up.
In the first of a series of major speeches by senior Cabinet ministers, he will say stopping Brexit would be a betrayal and that leaving the European Union is not grounds for fear but hope.
In a speech billed as “the Road to Brexit: A United Kingdom”, the pro-Leave Foreign Secretary will issue a call to Leavers and Remainers to move on from the divisions of the past.
But he will issue this tough warning: “I fear that some people are becoming ever more determined to stop Brexit, to reverse the referendum vote of June 23 2016, and to frustrate the will of the people.
“I believe that would be a disastrous mistake that would lead to permanent and ineradicable feelings of betrayal. We cannot and will not let it happen.”
In the more conciliatory part of his speech, the Foreign Secretary will say: “But if we are to carry this project through to national success – as we must – then we must also 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.”
Mr Johnson will say that the UK must not repeat the mistakes of the past when pro-EU voices too often ignored the voices of those who opposed EU membership.
He will say: “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.”
Mr Johnson will also have a tough message for those Cabinet ministers and MPs, led by the Chancellor Philip Hammond, who want a so-called “soft Brexit” and want to maintain links with the EU’s Customs Union or single market.
“To those who worry about coming out of the customs union or the single market – please bear in mind that the economic benefits of membership are nothing like as conspicuous or irrefutable as is sometimes claimed,” he will say.
“In the last few years there have been plenty of non-EU countries who have seen far more rapid growth in their exports to the EU than we have – even though we pay a handsome membership fee.
“It is only by taking back control of our laws that UK firms and entrepreneurs will have the freedom to innovate, without the risk of having to comply with some directive devised by Brussels, at the urgings of some lobby group, with the aim of holding back a UK competitor.
“That would be intolerable, undemocratic, and would make it all but impossible for us to do serious free trade deals.
“It is only by taking back control of our regulatory framework and our tariff schedules that we can do these deals, and exploit the changes in the world economy.”
But Mr Johnson’s Valentine’s Day speech has already failed to woo pro-Remain MPs, who are accusing him of hypocrisy.
Labour MP Chuka Umunna MP, a leading supporter of Open Britain, said: “Boris Johnson is totally unqualified to preach about the perils of fear and betrayal when 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 £350 million extra per week for the NHS.
“This is hypocrisy of the highest order.
“He has so far failed to explain why he is campaigning in Cabinet to take the UK out of the Customs Union when there is no other solution to the Irish border issue and it will jeopardise the Good Friday Agreement settlement.
“He has failed to explain why the Government has failed to start negotiating new trade deals when the campaign he led promised we would do so immediately after the Leave vote.
“Boris Johnson needs to come clean and concede that we cannot have our cake and eat it when leaving the EU. His speech is on Valentine’s Day, not April Fool’s Day.”
The Foreign Secretary’s speech also coincides with a report by MPs claiming Government delays, uncertainty and under-resourcing are leaving the UK’s borders and immigration unprepared for Brexit.
The Home Affairs Committee criticises the delays to the Immigration White Paper and warns of serious problems for immigration service delivery and border security as a result of lack of decisions, proper planning or sufficient resources.
It raises serious questions about the Home Office’s ability to implement the systems and staffing required to deliver proposed Brexit changes and criticises the continued uncertainty over the status of EU nationals.
Former Labour Cabinet minister Yvette Cooper, who chairs the committee, told Sky News: “Government drift is putting everyone in an impossible position.
“Decisions and announcements keep being delayed. Crucial details are still lacking. There aren’t enough resources and staff in place. Our inquiry found that the immigration and border system is already understaffed with significant problems and it will not cope with last minute and under-resourced Brexit changes.
“We need urgent clarity about both registration and border plans for next year so that Parliament can scrutinise them and so that families, employers and officials can plan.”
(c) Sky News 2018: Boris Johnson sends Valentine message to Remainers