The Foreign Secretary appeared to liken French president Francois Hollande to a Second World War German general, in the fallout from Theresa May’s plan for leaving the EU. Speaking in India, Mr Johnson said: “If Mr Hollande wants to administer punishment beatings to anybody who seeks to escape [the EU], in the manner of some World War Two movie, I don’t think that is the way forward, and it’s not in the interests of our friends and partners. “It seems absolutely incredible to me that, in the 21st century, member states of the EU should be seriously contemplating the reintroduction of tariffs or whatever to administer punishment to the UK.”
The comments brought to mind images of famous war films, such as The Great Escape, The Colditz Story and Bridge On The River Kwai, in which British soldiers are abused by Germans, or the Japanese. Mr Johnson’s comments follow similar remarks made by David Davis earlier. Asked whether the government was ready for potentially tense negotiations with EU leaders, Mr Davis also invoked the Second World War. “If our civil service can cope with World War Two, they can easily cope with this,” he told ITV.
Mr Hollande has not responded to the speech the Prime Minister gave yesterday, in which she threatened to walk away with no trade deal if the EU refuses her demands. However, last October, he warned that Britain must pay a “price” if it leaves the EU – reflecting the widespread view across the Channel. Mr Hollande said: “There must be a threat, there must be a risk, there must be a price, otherwise we will be in negotiations that will not end well and, inevitably, will have economic and human consequences.
Mr Johnson’s extraordinary comments in India came as he argued Britain could start work on new trade deals on the “back of an envelope”. The Government has said it recognises that it cannot begin negotiating fresh trading agreements until it is no longer an EU member, probably in 2019. But Mr Johnson said: “We need to turbo-charge this relationship with a new free trade deal, such as we will shortly be able to do. “We can’t negotiate it now, but we can sketch it out in pencil on the back of an envelope.”
The Foreign Secretary also appeared to point to a possible benefit of falling back on World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules – despite the fears of most of British business. Pointing out that Britain is an enormous market for German cars, Mr Johnson said: “These things cut both ways. “You can put a 10 per cent tariff on 820,000 cars, Mercs. That’s a lot of money for the Exchequer. “We think we can do a great free trade deal for the benefit of both sides. The more trade, the more jobs on both sides.” Mr Johnson has also claimed countries around the world are eager to strike trade deals with Britain, writing in a newspaper column: “They are already queuing up.”
The Prime Minister’s official spokeswoman: “He (the Foreign Secretary) was in no way suggesting anyone was a Nazi.”