Boris Johnson has insisted he still believes in, and abides by, Cabinet collective responsibility after being mocked for his “crazy” Brexit plans.
The foreign secretary answered “of course” when challenged in the Commons about the convention following his public criticism of a customs proposal supported by the prime minister.
He also sidestepped Labour questions over whether the UK will have to remain in the EU customs union and follow single market rules until at least 2023 under his preferred technology-led so-called “maximum facilitation” or “max fac” approach.
Mr Johnson earlier this month used an interview to label proposals for a customs partnership after Brexit as “crazy” despite it being thought to be Theresa May’s favoured approach and viewed as a way to break the deadlock on the future of the Irish border.
The plan involved the UK collecting customs tariffs on behalf of the EU but failed to secure support from senior Cabinet colleagues, with the alternative “max fac” option using technology to reduce friction at the border.
Speaking in the Commons, shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry took aim at Mr Johnson and joked: “Can I begin by thanking the foreign secretary for leading our cross-party efforts over the last few weeks to destroy the Prime Minister’s customs partnership proposal.
“I trust that he finished the job off earlier this morning, but unfortunately this just does leave us with his own crazy Mad Max proposal – max fac proposal.
“On that, can I ask him a very simple yes or not question – and one that’s been asked several times by [Yvette Cooper, Labour chairwoman of the Home Affairs Select Committee] – does he believe that cameras are physical infrastructure?”
Mr Johnson urged Ms Thornberry to “elucidate” to the nation Labour’s customs union policy, adding: “I seem to remember them campaigning at the last general election on a platform to come out of the customs union.
“They now say they want to stay in a customs union, a customs partnership – their policy is absolutely clouded in obscurity.”
He said Ms Thornberry had a chance to “part those clouds of confusion”, to which Ms Thornberry replied: “We’re quite willing to exchange places with the other side, all we would ask for is they call a general election.
“I don’t think there was even an attempt to answer the question that I’d asked – like the prime minister, he seems unable and unwilling to state the blindingly obvious.”
On the “max fac” proposal, Ms Thornberry asked: “Can the foreign secretary confirm… if the technology his proposal relies upon takes five years to become fully functional, then the UK will be obliged to remain part of the customs union and be bound by single market rules until at least 2023?”
Mr Johnson said Ms Thornberry had failed to be clear over Labour’s policy, claiming the government had been “absolutely clear” and said prime minister Theresa May has said “time and time again” that the UK was leaving the single market and customs union while “taking back control” of borders, laws and money.
He went on: “The prime minister in her Mansion House speech gave plenty of indications of how we will deal with the problems that [Ms Thornberry] describes.”
SNP MP Neil Gray (Airdrie and Shotts) later asked: “Can the foreign secretary confirm whether he still believes in and has to abide by Cabinet collective responsibility?”
Mr Johnson replied: “Of course, Mr Speaker.”
Labour’s Ian Murray (Edinburgh South) added: “The Foreign Office website says the European single market is key to Europe and the UK’s place in the global economy.
“Does the Foreign Secretary agree?”
Mr Johnson replied: “I think whatever the website used to say about the single market, it’ll shortly no longer apply to the UK.”