Boris Johnson has set out a leadership manifesto on the eve of the Conservatives’ annual party conference, positioning himself as the custodian of hard Brexit and champion of low-paid workers.
The Foreign Secretary publicly set down his four Brexit red lines and urged the Prime Minister to lift the minimum wage faster and pay public sector workers more in an interview with The Sun newspaper.
It is the second time in as many weeks that Mr Johnson has publicly challenged Theresa May on the Government’s Brexit policy – interventions that some colleagues have interpreted as an attempt to undermine her authority.
In an interview ahead of party conference, Mr Johnson said the transition period must last “not a second more” that two years.
His remarks go beyond the Cabinet position agreed ahead of Mrs May’s Florence speech last week, where she endorsed a transition period and confirmed Britain would pay tens of billions into the EU budget during that time.
Mrs May said the transition period should last “about two years”, while her Foreign Secretary has declared that anything longer than 24 months would be “a mistake”.
Mr Johnson told The Sun: “I got that from my own talking to people. Very strongly.
“There can be no monkeying around.
“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.”
Mr Johnson also strayed well beyond his brief as Foreign Secretary as he waded into the debate on pay, calling on the Prime Minister to give millions of public sector workers a good pay rise and lift the minimum wage for the lowest-paid workers.
“I want people to be paid more,” he said. “People get up unbelievably early and they work unbelievably hard, they deserve to be properly paid.”
The remarks will pile pressure on Theresa May and the Chancellor – already under pressure from Labour and the unions to lift pay.
Mr Johnson’s interventions on the eve of party conference are likely to infuriate Number 10, which has been struggling to keep the Foreign Secretary under control in recent weeks.
His remarks on Brexit and pay come as the Prime Minister tries to shift the party on to different territory, announcing that the Tories must listen to the concerns of younger voters after the “disappointing” election result.
Number 10 – rather like the Labour leadership – want to keep Brexit off the agenda at party conference, and instead focus on domestic issues.
“This week we’ll be setting out our road to a better future for you and your family,” Mrs May will tell delegates in Manchester.
“Yes, we have to get the best Brexit deal – but we must also take action here at home to make this a fairer place to live for ordinary working people.
“The social contract in our country is that the next generation should always have it better than the last. Conservatives have a plan to make that a reality.”
She will also insist that Labour is “simply not fit to govern” and argue that Jeremy Corbyn’s economic approach will leave working people facing “higher taxes and fewer jobs”.
Mr Johnson said the minimum wage – at £7.50 an hour rising to £9 in 2020 – was “not enough”.
He also said the Government should lift public sector pay by cutting the number of state-employed staff, arguing that there were plenty of jobs in the private sector for the taking.
On Brexit, Mr Johnson said the UK must refuse to accept any new EU rules or European Court of Justice rulings during the transition period – a posiiton that might be legally impossible to deliver – and rule out any further payments to Brussels for all single market access when the transition ends.
He also said the final post-transition deal must not see the UK just copying Brussels rules to ensure easy access to the single market.
The intervention comes just two weeks after the Foreign Secretary penned his own 4,300-word treatise on his vision for a “glorious Brexit”, prompting the Prime Minister to rather tersely remind her Foreign Secretary that it was she in charge of setting Brexit policy… not he.