Boris Johnson has stoked Cabinet tensions over Brexit after he dismissed the idea that the UK could pay “large” amounts into Brussels for continued access to the single market after it had left the European Union.
The Foreign Secretary insisted Britain’s withdrawal from the bloc would mean the return of “very large sums of money” to be spent by the Government on UK priorities such as the NHS.
He described a suggestion by Brexit Secretary David Davis that the Government would consider paying to maintain access to the single market for British exporters as “a speculation”.
Mr Davis angered some pro-Brexit Tory MPs when the told the Commons on Thursday that the “major criterion” in such a decision would be obtaining “the best possible access for goods and services” to the European market.
His comments fuelled suspicions among some on the right that Theresa May is aiming for a so-called “soft Brexit” rather than the clean break with the EU which they have been demanding.
However, appearing on BBC1’s The Andrew Marr Show, Mr Johnson said nothing had been decided.
“That is something that obviously David Davis is considering. It doesn’t mean that a decision has been taken,” he said.
He indicated any continuing payments to Brussels should be limited to relatively small scale projects such as the Erasmus student exchange scheme or the Horizon research and innovation programme. “I see no reason why those payments should be large,” he said.
The Foreign Secretary – who led the Leave campaign with a controversial pledge to return £350 million a week to spend on priorities like the NHS – insisted however that withdrawal would mean large sums being returned to the UK Exchequer.
“I do believe that as a result of Brexit we will be able to take back control of the money that we currently give to Brussels,” he said. “Very large sums of money will be coming back to this country which will be capable of being spent on priorities such as the NHS.”
He later risked further antagonising Theresa May by calling for student numbers to be dropped from the official migration figures - something the Prime Minister - has specifically ruled out saying they contributed billions in fees.
“I do take that view and I think it’s of massive benefit to this country,” he told ITV ‘s Peston On Sunday.