By Shaun Connolly and Dan O’Donoghue, Press Association Political Staff
Boris Johnson’s savaging of the Prime Minister’s Chequers proposals for Brexit has sparked fresh infighting among prominent Tories.
Former Cabinet minister Nicky Morgan mocked the ex-foreign secretary, while arch-Brexiteers like Jacob Rees-Mogg rallied to his defence.
Referring to Mr Johnson’s Daily Telegraph column in which he claimed Theresa May’s agenda was “humiliating” for the UK, Ms Morgan tweeted: “I said Boris had to decide if he was a politician or a journalist – he’s clearly made his decision but shame he didn’t research the link between agreeing a solution that keeps the Irish border frictionless and the chances of agreeing withdrawal terms. Or does he just not care?”
However, leading Brexiteer Bernard Jenkin described Mr Johnson’s remarks as “unanswerable” and “powerful”.
Fellow anti-EU Tory Nadine Dorries called Mr Johnson “a man with a plan”.
Mr Rees-Mogg, who chairs the powerful Eurosceptic European Research Group, echoed the former foreign secretary’s comments, saying negotiations had been “badly conducted”.
The North East Somerset MP likened the Chequers Brexit plan to Count Dracula, saying it “doesn’t have much life in the sunlight”.
He told BBC One’s Question Time: “I think the negotiations have been badly conducted, I think we have let the European Union make the running in negotiations, we agreed to their establishment of the terms of negotiations and the timetable of the negotiations.
“I think this has not been impressive and I think Chequers is not leaving the EU, it is remaining bound to an EU rule-book which is interpreted by the European Court of Justice and the EU’s rejected it anyway.
“So Chequers may not not even be a dying duck, it may be slightly more Count Dracula in that it seems to get up at night and walk abroad, but it doesn’t seem to have much life in the sunlight.”
His comments came after Mr Johnson, in a scathing op-ed, described Mrs May’s plans as “a moral and intellectual humiliation for this country”.
Shadow Cabinet Office minister Jon Trickett said Mr Johnson’s column revealed that the Tories only had “internal warfare” left.
He said: “As Boris Johnson says, there has been ‘a collective failure of government’. But not just on Brexit – on housing, education, community safety, on our NHS, public services and utilities.
“It’s clearer than ever that the Tories have run out of ideas. All they have left is internal warfare and continued austerity.”
Referring to Mr Johnson’s article, Labour MP David Lammy tweeted: “Just when I had run out of bog roll.”
Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran said Mr Johnson’s comments were nothing more than a “half-baked, sloppy rant”.
She said: “The blue-on-blue in-fighting has already kicked off ahead of Tory conference. But while Johnson is being paid hundreds of thousands to belch out the first thing that comes to mind on page, there are businesses up and down the country wondering whether they’ll still exist after Brexit.
“It’s a disgrace that he can’t take the most important decision facing this generation seriously.”
Sir Richard Branson dismissed Mr Johnson’s alternative vision for Britain leaving the EU, warning that Brexit would be a “disaster” for the UK and Europe.
“I think it’s becoming clearer and clearer just what a disaster it is and I just hope that ultimately it doesn’t go through,” he told Sky News.
“I listened to Boris Johnson and I also listened to the words he said about entrepreneurs and business people.
“I do personally think that entrepreneurs and business people know what this country needs more than Boris Johnson knows.”
The billionaire Virgin boss also voiced support for a second referendum, saying he thinks it is “quite likely that sense will finally prevail”.