Brexit tensions threaten to overshadow Tory conference

Updated: 

Prime Minister Theresa May has arrived in Manchester for a crunch Tory party conference as tensions over Brexit broke into the open again.

Britain's EU divorce deal and the scope of any post-withdrawal transition period looks set to dominate the Conservative gathering.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson caused waves on the eve of the conference as he insisted that any transition period must not last "a second more" than two years, while some senior Conservatives have said Britain should walk away from Brexit negotiations by Christmas if no serious progress is being made.

Boris Johnson insists any transition period must not last
Boris Johnson insists any transition period must not last "a second more" than two years (Pavel Neubauer/AP)

Mr Johnson said the UK should not have to abide by any new EU rules during a post-withdrawal transition period, and that Britain should not make payments to Brussels after it.

He said there can be "no monkeying around" about withdrawal from the EU.

Mr Johnson, who insisted his stance was not a leadership pitch after a poll of activists showed him well favoured for the top job, said Brexit needed to happen quickly.

He told the Sun: "Am I impatient about it, do I want to get it done as fast as possible? Yes, absolutely. Do I want the delay to go on longer than two years? Not a second more."

The move came as a letter to the Prime Minister from senior pro-Brexit Tory MPs and business figures in the Leave Means Leave group stated: "If the EU is not seriously negotiating a free trade deal by Christmas 2017, the Government should give formal notice that we will move to World Trade Organisation rules in March 2019."

Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson called for
Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson called for "serious people" to take charge of the Brexit process (Jane Barlow/PA)

Signatories calling for the hardline stance include former Brexit minister David Jones, and the issue is set to feature heavily at the Tory conference.

However, Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson called for "serious people" to take charge of the Brexit process.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the Foreign Secretary's stance threatened a trade war with the EU.

He said: "It seems a pretty dysfunctional Government. I can't imagine what it's like sitting around a table with their Brexit negotiating team because there are three or four people with three or four completely different opinions.

Jeremy Corbyn said the Boris Johnson's stance threatened a trade war with the EU
Jeremy Corbyn said the Boris Johnson's stance threatened a trade war with the EU (Victoria Jones/PA)

"Boris this morning seems to be saying two years maximum on the transition period and then no shadowing of EU rules. Well, that sounds to me like a threat to have a trade policy that undermines Europe.

"Therein lies the basis of a trade war of the future, therein lies a threat to thousands and thousands of jobs in Britain.

"You have got to have a serious, adult, grown-up relationship with Europe."

Boris Johnson's latest Brexit red lines would be disastrous for UK. He is motivated by selfish, personal ambition not the national interest

-- Vince Cable (@vincecable) September 30, 2017

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable said Mr Johnson's intervention had undermined the Government's Brexit negotiating position.

"Boris Johnson's latest red line sends an appalling signal to EU negotiators who thought they were dealing with David Davis and Theresa May but now realise that the strings are being pulled by others," he said.

"Senior Conservatives are displaying an abject failure to act together in the national interest and seem more motivated by selfish, personal ambition."