Boris Johnson hosts hard Brexit lobby group

Boris Johnson hosts hard Brexit lobby group

The decision by the foreign secretary, left, threatens the fragile truce within the cabinet over the government’s Brexit position

The decision by the foreign secretary, left, threatens the fragile truce within the cabinet over the government’s Brexit position

Boris Johnson will host the launch of a think tank which is pushing for a hard Brexit at a Foreign Office event in the latest test of cabinet unity.

Liam Fox, the international trade secretary, will also speak at the launch of the Institute for Free Trade in the map room in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office this evening. The reception will not be open to the media.

The think tank says it wants to change policy by calling for Britain to abandon European product standards, even though this could jeopardise a softer Brexit.

Mr Johnson’s decision to host the event comes days after the prime minister’s speech in Florence and threatens the fragile truce that has been called within cabinet over the government’s Brexit position.

The Institute for Free Trade is chaired by Jon Moynihan, a member of the board of the Vote Leave campaign, and led by Daniel Hannan, the Conservative MEP. It wants to influence the final Brexit deal by approaching businesses and government ministers independently of the Department for International Trade.

Its website states that it wants to promote new trade networks “to make sure that they are contracted on the basis of mutual recognition rather than standardisation.” It wants to work with ministers and businesses to dodge restrictions on negotiating deals before Britain withdraws from the EU in 2019.

Pat McFadden, former shadow Europe minister and supporter of Open Britain, the pro-Remain group, said Mr Johnson’s involvement shows Theresa May’s weakness. “Any prime minister with an ounce of strength would not permit cabinet colleagues to launch think tanks undermining the government’s policy, let alone in a government building,” he said.

Hannah McGrath & Sam Coates

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