'Brexit meltdown' possible, but don't panic, says UK's Boris Johnson

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has been caught on tape warning that Brexit talks could go into "meltdown." He also expressed his growing admiration for US President Donald Trump.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has indicated that he expects talks over Britain's departure from the European Unioncould spiral out of control, according to a secret tape leaked to BuzzFeed News.

"I think [Prime Minister] Theresa [May] is going to go into a phase where we are much more combative with Brussels," he was recorded saying to Conservative activists at a dinner. "You've got to face the fact there may now be a meltdown. OK? I don't want anyone to panic during the meltdown. No panic. Pro bono publico, no bloody panic. It's all going to be all right in the end."

Read more: 'Armageddon' Brexit: 'No deal' scenario could hit fuel and food

Trump fandom

Johnson speculated that US President Donald Trump would take a much more aggressive approach to negotiations than the UK has been doing, saying that he was "increasingly admiring" of the US leader.

"He'd go in bloody hard ... there'd be all sorts of breakdowns, all sorts of chaos," he said. "Everyone would think he'd gone mad. But actually, you might get somewhere."

Politics | 05.03.2018

Johnson, who is an adamant supporter of Britain's exit from the EU, also said divisions in the government would not prevent Brexit, but that the procedure might not proceed as London hopes.

He said the establishment wanted a Brexit that changed as little as possible, which could carry the risk "that you will end up in an anteroom of the EU, locked in orbit around the EU."

Read more: What role did Cambridge Analytica play in the Brexit vote?

Irish border: no problem

Johnson also played down what many see as one of the major stumbling blocks in Brexit negotiations: the question of whether new checks will be put in place on the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, an EU member.

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News | 20.02.2018

Boris Johnson says there will be no hard Irish border

"It's so small and there are so few firms that actually use that border regularly. ... We're allowing the whole of our agenda to be dictated by this folly," he said.

The comments, made on Wednesday, were released on Thursday by BuzzFeed just hours after ministers reached a compromise on a backstop plan for the Irish border. The plan foresees the border remaining aligned with EU customs rules until a permanent new trade deal avoiding a physical border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland is negotiated.

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EU officials have so far been skeptical about the plan.

May 'still has confidence' in Johnson

Johnson's remarks are likely to embarrass May, who is endeavoring to present her government as assertive and in control during the difficult negotiations. 

After his comments were made public, a spokeswoman for the prime minister said on Friday only that May believed "that her Cabinet and her government are working hard to deliver on the will of the people and working hard to take back control of our money, laws and our borders."

Asked whether May had confidence in Johnson, she replied, "Of course."

Read moreBrexit Diaries 30: Trade wars in the age of Brexit 

Who's who in Brexit?

Britain's embattled skipper: Theresa May

May became prime minister after David Cameron resigned from the post in the wake of the Brexit referendum vote in June 2016. Despite her position, she has struggled to define what kind of Brexit her government wants. Hardliners within her Conservative party want her to push for a clean break. Others want Britain to stay close to the bloc. The EU itself has rejected many of May's Brexit demands.

Who's who in Brexit?

Britain's reluctant rebel: Jeremy Corbyn

The leader of the British Labour Party has no formal role in the Brexit talks, but he is influential as the head of the main opposition party. Labour has tried to pressure the Conservative government, which has a thin majority in Parliament, to seek a "softer" Brexit. But Corbyn's own advocacy has been lukewarm. The long-time leftist voted for the UK to leave the European Community (EC) in 1975.

Who's who in Brexit?

Britain's boisterous Brexiteer: Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson's turbulent two years as UK foreign secretary came to an abrupt end with his resignation on July 9. The conservative had been a key face for the Leave campaign during the 2016 referendum campaign. Johnson disapproves of the "soft Brexit" sought by PM May, arguing that a complete break from the EU might be preferable. He became the second Cabinet member within 24 hours to quit...

Who's who in Brexit?

Britain's cheery ex-delegate: David Davis

David Davis headed Britain's Department for Exiting the EU and was the country's chief negotiator in the talks before he quit on July 8, less than 24 hours before Downing Street announced Boris Johnson's departure. Davis had long opposed Britain's EU membership and was picked for the role for this reason. Davis was involved in several negotiating rounds with his EU counterpart, Michel Barnier.

Who's who in Brexit?

Britain's former Brexit secretary: Dominic Raab

Raab replaced Davis in early July 2018. But he only lasted four months, resigning a day after Theresa May presented a draft withdrawal plan to her cabinet. Raab previously worked for a Palestinian negotiator in the Oslo peace process and as an international lawyer in Brussels advising on European Union and World Trade Organization law.

Who's who in Brexit?

Britain's turnabout diplomat: Jeremy Hunt

Jeremy Hunt was Britain's Health Secretary until he replaced Boris Johnson as foreign secretary in early July 2018. The 51-year-old supported Britain remaining in the European Union during the 2016 referendum, but said in late 2017 that he had changed his mind in response to the "the arrogance of the EU Commission" during Brexit talks. He has vowed to help get Britain a "great Brexit deal."

Who's who in Brexit?

Britain's firebrand: Nigel Farage

Nigel Farage was the leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) until July 2016. Under his stewardship, the party helped pressure former Prime Minister David Cameron into calling the EU referendum. He was also a prominent activist in the Leave campaign in the lead-up to the vote. Farage still has some influence over Brexit talks due to his popularity with pro-Leave voters.

Who's who in Brexit?

Brexit's banker: Arron Banks

Businessman Arron Banks is a friend of Nigel Farage, and donated a significant sum to the former UKIP leader's Leave.EU campaign – making him the group's biggest financial backer. He had several meetings with Russian officials ahead of the referendum, but has denied allegations of collusion with Moscow in the Brexit vote, branding the claims a "political witch hunt."

Who's who in Brexit?

Europe's honchos: Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk

EU Commission President Juncker (left) and EU Council President Tusk (right) share two of the bloc's highest posts. Juncker heads the EU's executive. Tusk represents the governments of the 27 EU countries — the "EU 27." Both help formulate the EU's position in Brexit negotiations. What Tusk says is particularly noteworthy: His EU 27 masters — not the EU commission — must agree to any Brexit deal.

Who's who in Brexit?

Europe's steely diplomat: Michel Barnier

The former French foreign minister and European commissioner has become a household name across the EU since his appointment as the bloc's chief Brexit negotiator in October 2016. Despite his prominence, Barnier has limited room to maneuver. He is tasked with following the EU 27's strict guidelines and must regularly report back to them during the negotiations.

Who's who in Brexit?

Ireland's uneasy watchman: Leo Varadkar

The Irish PM has been one of the most important EU 27 leaders in Brexit talks. Britain has said it will leave the EU's customs union and single market. That could force the Republic of Ireland, an EU member, to put up customs checks along the border with Northern Ireland, a British province. But Varadkar's government has repeatedly said the return of a "hard" border is unacceptable.

Who's who in Brexit?

Europe's power-brokers: the EU 27

The leaders of the EU 27 governments have primarily set the EU's negotiating position. They have agreed to the negotiating guidelines for chief negotiator Barnier and have helped craft the common EU position for Tusk and Juncker to stick to. The individual EU 27 governments can also influence the shape of any Brexit outcome because they must unanimously agree to a final deal.

tj/sms (AFP, Reuters)

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