Speaking at the Foreign Office launch of the privately financed Institute for Free Trade, the foreign secretary urged that the two-year implementation period announced by Theresa May last week be kept short so that Britain was free to strike new trade deals with other countries.
“You can imagine what our brilliant companies are able to do … when they are finally – and let’s hope the date is soon upon us without too long a transition period – when they are finally unbound, unshackled,” Johnson told an audience of foreign ambassadors and business leaders.
Following similar interventions before May’s speech, the choice of venue for the launch – in the imperial splendour of the old Colonial Office map room – was widely seen as another provocative gesture. It implies official government support for a thinktank wedded to accelerating the point at which Britain can strike new trade deals, just days after May’s Florence speech advocated slowing the process down.
Daniel Hannan, the Eurosceptic MEP behind the new institute, immediately underlined his distance from the more cautious approach of the prime minister and Treasury by calling on Britain to embrace Singapore-style market liberalisation when it leaves.
May has gone out of her way to reassure EU leaders in recent days that Britain was not seeking to undercut the single market by adopting radical measures to become an offshore haven like Singapore.
“I’m looking at [the] high commissioner of Singapore [in the front row],” said Hannan. “They have gone from being half as rich as us to twice as rich as us. What was the magic formula? Just do it. They dropped their barriers.”