Downing Street dismissed a searing attack by Boris Johnson on Theresa May’s Brexit strategy – insisting he had ‘no new ideas’.
The PM’s spokesman hit out after the former foreign secretary jibed that she was flying the ‘white flag’ in the standoff with the EU.
Mr Johnson said the UK was ‘lying flat on the canvas’ in negotiations with Brussels, insisting Mrs May had ‘not even tried’ to play hardball.
The latest intervention heaped pressure on Mrs May over her blueprint – which would see the UK follow EU rules on goods and collect some taxes for the bloc in order to avoid friction at the borders.
But the premier’s spokesman shot back: ‘Boris Johnson resigned over Chequers. There are no new ideas in this article to respond to.
“What we need is serious leadership with a serious plan – that is exactly what this country has with this prime minister and this Brexit plan.”
The spat comes amid a rising onslaught from Tory Eurosceptics who are demanding the premier changes tack.
However, Mr Johnson was branded a ‘great charlatan’ by angry Conservative Remainers.
Mr Johnson, who resigned over the Chequers compromise along with former Brexit secretary David Davis, wrote in his Telegraph column that the negotiations were a ‘fix’ which could only lead to victory for Brussels.
The Tory heavyweight compared withdrawal negotiations between Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab and the EU’s Michel Barnier to a rigged wrestling match.
He said: ‘Out of their corners come Dominic Raab and Michel Barnier, shrugging their shoulders and beating their chests – and I just hope you aren’t one of those trusting souls who still thinks it could really go either way.
‘The fix is in. The whole thing is about as pre-ordained as a bout between Giant Haystacks and Big Daddy; and in this case, I am afraid, the inevitable outcome is a victory for the EU, with the UK lying flat on the canvas and 12 stars circling symbolically over our semi-conscious head.’
Mr Johnson accused ‘some members’ of the Government of deliberately using the Irish border situation to ‘stop a proper Brexit’ and effectively keep Britain in the EU.
He said that the real ‘scandal’ was ‘not that we have failed, but that we have not even tried’ on Brexit.
The blistering intervention comes as Mrs May faces growing opposition on Tory benches to the Chequers Cabinet compromise on the Brexit strategy which triggered the resignation from the Government of Mr Johnson.
With Parliament returning from recess tomorrow, the PM is expected facing huge pressure to change course from Tory hardliners – amid claims that election strategist Sir Lynton Crosby is involved in a ‘chuck Chequers’ campaign.
Mr Barnier has stated he ‘strongly opposed’ the Chequers proposals because such ‘cherry-picking’ would mean the end of the European project if enacted
But Mr Johnson said Britain faced getting ‘two thirds of diddly squat’ for its divorce bill.
He said: ‘They may puff about ‘cherry-picking’ the single market. There may be some confected groaning and twanging of leotards when it comes to the discussion on free movement.
‘But the reality is that in this negotiation the EU has so far taken every important trick.
‘The UK has agreed to hand over £40 billion of taxpayers’ money for two thirds of diddly squat.
‘We will remain in the EU taxi; but this time locked in the boot, with absolutely no say on the destination. We won’t have taken back control – we will have lost control.’
The comments followed claims from former Brexit secretary David Davis that Mrs May had positioned herself for ‘open sesame’ on further Brexit climbdowns after saying she would not be pushed into compromises ‘that are not in our national interest’.
Mr Davis branded the Chequers blueprint as being ‘actually almost worse than being in’ the EU.
But he insisted today that Mrs May should not be forced to resign for putting forward ‘wrong’ proposals – and took an apparent swipe at Mr Johnson by criticising ‘personality’ politics.
Asked if Mrs May should resign, he said: ‘No, we don’t need any more turbulence right now. What matters in all of this is not the personality politics, it’s the outcome at the end.’
Home Secretary Sajid Javid also joined in the criticism.
He told a press conference in London: ‘The thing that is helpful is for us all to support the Prime Minister with her plan and make sure it is getting affair hearing with the EU.
‘And those who think there is a different way then they need to properly set out what alternatives there might be.
‘But right now this is a plan that has been put forward by the UK Government and it is still being considered by all the bits that make up the EU and let’s see what they say.
‘But that is the plan and that is the one that everyone should be uniting behind.’
Senior Tory backbencher Sarah Wollaston laid into Mr Johnson more bluntly on Twitter.
‘No surprise to see the great charlatan blaming others for a mess of his own creation.
Damian Green, a close ally of Mrs May and her former deputy, complained that Mr Johnson was not being ‘serious’.
‘I don’t think using words like surrender and so on is cogniscant of the seriousness of the situation.
‘These are hugely important months for the future of the country and its prosperity.’
He insisted Mrs May’s position was ‘difficult but not impossible’ .
‘We’re walking a narrow path with people chucking rocks at us from both sides,’ he said.
Mr Green said he believed the Chequers plan would end up winning support.
‘Everyone is going to have to face the fact that the British Government has got a plan… no-one else in the EU has suggested a plan that is in any way workable,’ he said.
One Tory Remainer told The Times they were being privately assured that the Chequers plan would be softened further.
‘They are telling me, ‘We know this is difficult. We know we may have to move further.’
In another sign of Cabinet tensions yesterday, International Development Secretary Liam Fox took a swipe at the Treasury over gloomy predictions on the consequences of a no-deal scenario.
Dr Fox told the BBC: ‘Can you think back in all your time in politics where the Treasury have made predictions that were correct 15 years out, I can’t, they didn’t predict the financial crisis that happened, no-one could.
‘So this idea that we can predict what our borrowing would be 15 years in advance is just a bit hard to swallow.
‘To say what a GDP figure would be 15 years ahead is not a predictive power that I’ve known the Treasury to have in my time in politics … I don’t believe it is possible to have a 15-year time horizon on predictions on GDP.’
Conservative rebels including Iain Duncan Smith and Priti Patel have joined a backbench campaign to wreck Theresa May’s Brexit plans, it has emerged.
The Stand Up 4 Brexit group has apparently recruited around 20 Tory MPs including the ex-Cabinet ministers in an effort to sink the PM’s Chequers compromise.
Mrs May’s limited control of the House of Commons means even a small rebellion from her own backbenchers could prompt a government defeat.
Stand Up 4 Brexit’s aims include the end of free movement and opposing plans to keep Britain aligned with EU standards on goods, The Times reported.
David Davis, who resigned as Brexit secretary over the Chequers plan, also vowed to vote against Mrs May’s proposals.
The PM’s plans were ‘actually almost worse than being in’, he said.
However Mr Davis said he did not believe a change of party leader was needed, following claims that election strategist Lynton Crosby was planning to install Boris Johnson in Downing Street instead.
He said: ‘It is absolutely possible to dump Chequers without changing leader and that’s the best way to do it.
‘Anyone who conflates getting rid of Chequers with changing the leadership is confusing their aims’.