Boris Johnson has refused to rule out free movement for EU nationals after Brexit.
In a rambling interview with BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Monday, the foreign secretary did not rule out free movement continuing for years after March 2019.
Presenter John Humphrys asked what would happen in the transition period after Brexit, saying to Mr Johnson: ‘I’m assuming, correct me if I’m wrong, there will still be free movement of people for those two years?’
Instead of correcting the interviewer, Mr Johnson replied: ‘I’m not going to pre-empt any announcements that the prime minister will make about this in due course.’
This could be a hint that Theresa May will maintain free movement during the transition as a concession to the EU.
Mr Johnson was speaking ahead of a vote in the House of Commons on Monday night over the government’s Brexit legislation – the Repeal Bill – which is likely to be passed.
The foreign secretary said those voting against it would be doing so to ‘frustrate Brexit by producing a chaotic result’.
He said: ‘We need to get this great ship launched.’
When asked what Mrs May should do to restore confidence among MPs, Mr Johnson gave a rather rambling response.
He said: ‘I don’t think… frankly… I think she… What people want… Keep going! She needs to keep… keep going, keep… keep… keep going, get this thing done.’
How did the glories of Empire; the sophistication of Eton and Oxford; the splendour of Queen and Country, produce this as Foreign Secretary? pic.twitter.com/yf9KnftylZ
— Jo Maugham QC (@JolyonMaugham) September 11, 2017
Mr Johnson and Brexit secretary David Davis have warned that voting against the bill would cause chaos, in an effort to bolster support for the legislation.
Mr Johnson said the prospect of a transitional period after March 2019 to allow for the shift to any new trading arrangement with Brussels was not an attempt to water down Brexit.
‘The promises that were made to the British people will be honoured, the verdict they delivered on June 23 will be vindicated and carried through,’ he said.
Signalling that victory on the Brexit Bill would mark a key moment for Theresa May’s government, Mr Johnson – widely viewed as a potential candidate in any leadership contest – said: ‘I am full of confidence and I think that if we can get the vote through tonight – and I very much hope that we will – the programme will go on.’
Former minister Caroline Flint said that Labour MPs should work to improve rather than kill the bill as she vowed not to oppose it.
The Don Valley MP said a defeat for the bill would cause ‘huge problems’ and told the Today programme: ‘I do believe that in respecting the outcome of the referendum, in respecting what I said to my electors in the general election just a few months ago, it is important that we get on with the job of making sure we can have as smooth an exit from the EU as possible.’