Jo Johnson, the younger brother of Boris, resigned from Prime Minister Theresa May’s government on Friday, calling in a withering critique for another referendum to avoid the vassalage or chaos that he said her Brexit plans would unleash.
Quitting as junior transport minister, Johnson called May’s Brexit plans “delusional” and said he could not vote for the deal she is expected to unveil in parliament within weeks.
“Britain stands on the brink of the greatest crisis since the Second World War,” said Johnson, a former Financial Times journalist who voted to stay in the EU in the 2016 referendum.
Johnson, 46, called it the worst failure of statecraft since the 1956 Suez canal crisis in which Britain was humiliatingly forced by the United States to withdraw its troops from Egypt.
“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,” he said.
“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 added.
The pound sank to a day’s low beneath $1.30 on the resignation and also fell against the euro. It was unclear whether others would follow Johnson out of government.
In the June 2016 referendum, 17.4 million voters, or 51.9%, backed leaving the EU while 16.1 million, or 48.1%, backed staying.
“The referendum in 2016 was the biggest democratic exercise in this country’s history. We will not under any circumstances have a second referendum,” Downing Street said. “The Prime Minister thanks Jo Johnson for his work in government.”
Johnson is the 14th minister to have resigned from government since November last year. The critique from Johnson underscores the travails that May faces in getting any Brexit divorce deal, which London and Brussels say is 95% done, approved by her own fractious party.
His brother Boris, who quit as foreign secretary in July, praised his decision, saying the brothers were “united in dismay” at the Prime Minister’s handling of the negotiations.
“My brother Boris, who led the ‘Leave’ campaign, is as unhappy with the government’s proposals as I am,” Jo Johnson said. “I know from my own work at the Department of Transport the potential chaos that will follow a ‘no deal’ Brexit.”
May is expected to hold a cabinet meeting later this month in the hope of securing her ministers’ support for her negotiating stance – and hopes to strike an exit deal with the European Union in the next few weeks.