Boris Johnson has pledged to get the UK “match fit for no deal” to ensure it can leave the European Union on October 31 “come what may”.
The Tory leadership frontrunner said there would be “no second chances” as he stressed that Halloween was a real deadline, “not a fake one” – a comment aimed at his rival Jeremy Hunt.
Mr Johnson’s commitment to stick to the deadline comes after he was warned that more than 30 Tories could rebel to block a no-deal Brexit if he tried to force it through Parliament.
Writing on the BrexitCentral website, Mr Johnson took aim at Mr Hunt, who referred to October 31 as a “fake deadline” – before later admitting he should have described his rival’s commitment to leave on that date as a “fake promise”.
Mr Johnson said: “We need a change of direction. That’s why we must treat October 31 as a real deadline for leaving the EU, come what may, not a fake one.”
He restated his promise to protect the rights of EU expats in the UK and to put the £39 billion divorce settlement in a state of “creative ambiguity” to use as leverage to secure a deal.
Discussions about the thorny issue of the Irish border would be put into the talks on the future trading relationship under his plan.
“If our friends feel they cannot agree, then we will be match fit for no deal.”
The UK would have the “fiscal firepower” to provide cash to support business and farmers affected by a no-deal Brexit.
Mr Johnson also signalled that the UK would be prepared to tear up red tape and slash taxes.
“We will be free to substantially diverge on tax and regulation,” he said.
“I have had enough of being told that we cannot do it – that the sixth biggest economy in the world is not strong enough to run itself and go forward in the world.”
Mr Johnson, frontman for the Vote Leave campaign, said he felt a “deep sense of personal responsibility for Brexit”, adding: “This is it. No second chances.
“We can choose more of the same, or we can choose change: delivering Brexit on October 31, uniting the country and beating (Jeremy) Corbyn.”
Mr Johnson also used his regular Daily Telegraph column to argue the case for increasing access to apprenticeships.
“We need to make sure that we not only properly fund all manner of technical and vocational education – from further education colleges to apprenticeships – and if I am lucky enough to be elected, we will.”
The newspaper reported that Mr Johnson would aim to boost non-university options as ways of getting ahead and reinvigorate plans for a £100 million “retraining fund” to give workers useful skills.
The scale of the challenge facing Mr Johnson to steer a no-deal Brexit through a hostile Commons was underlined by former leadership hopeful Sam Gyimah.
He suggested “about 30, 30-plus” Tories would vote to block Mr Johnson suspending Parliament to force through a no-deal Brexit.