Britain’s Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, was expected to argue on Wednesday that Britain’s looming departure from the European Union provides grounds not for “fear but hope,” and to warn critics that efforts to reverse the process would be a “disastrous mistake.”
One of the main campaigners for withdrawal, known as Brexit, in a referendum in 2016, Mr. Johnson is now a proponent of a clean break with the bloc. Prime Minister Theresa May’s cabinet, in which he serves, is bitterly divided over how to unravel more than four decades of European integration.
Mr. Johnson’s is the first in a series of speeches by ministers designed to provide some long-awaited detail on the government’s plans for a future relationship with the European Union after the withdrawal, which is scheduled to take place in little more than a year.
Once seen as a modernizing, liberal Conservative, Mr. Johnson is now a polarizing figure because of his role in the 2016 referendum — one he adopted after much public reflection. His intervention at this point is being watched closely, by his friends and political enemies, because he is still seen by some as a potential successor to Mrs. May.
Extracts of the speech, released before it was delivered, reflected the debate within Britain, where concerns at the lack of progress over Brexit negotiations have intensified in recent weeks.
“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,”’ Mr. Johnson was expected to say.
“I believe that would be a disastrous mistake that would lead to permanent and ineradicable feelings of betrayal,” the speech continues. “We cannot and will not let it happen.”
In more conciliatory language, Mr. Johnson was expected to try to reassure those who have continuing — or growing — doubts about the policy that “Brexit is not grounds for fear but hope.”
“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 neighbors and a desire for the U.K. to succeed,” he was expected to say.
But on substance Mr. Johnson seems to be yielding nothing. Writing in the Sun newspaper, he pushed back against those — including some fellow Conservative lawmakers and members of the cabinet — who want to remain close to European Union’s customs union and single market after Brexit.
“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 wrote.
“It is only by taking back control of our laws that U.K. 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 U.K. competitor.”
“That would be intolerable, undemocratic and would make it all but impossible for us to do serious free trade deals,” he added.