Johnson urges clean Brexit, 2 years after UK vote to quit EU

LONDON — Leading Brexit supporters talked tough and their opponents took to the streets, as a divided U.K. marked the second anniversary on Saturday of its vote to leave the European Union.

Britain voted on June 23, 2016 to quit the 28-nation EU, and its official exit is slated for March 29, 2019. But the country — and its Conservative government — remain divided about what kind of economic relationship it wants with the EU after Brexit.

Prime Minister Theresa May’s Cabinet is split, with Brexit-backing ministers such as Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson calling for a clean break so that Britain can strike new trade deals around the world. Others, including Treasury chief Philip Hammond, want to keep closely aligned to the bloc, Britain’s biggest trading partner.

In an article for The Sun newspaper on Saturday, Johnson urged May to deliver a “full British Brexit,” rather than one he compared to a roll of toilet paper — “soft, yielding and seemingly infinitely long.”

International Trade Secretary Liam Fox told the BBC that the EU needed to understand that Britain was willing to walk away from talks without agreement if necessary, because “no deal would be better than a bad deal.”

EU leaders are growing frustrated with what they see as a lack of firm proposals from the U.K about future relations. A paper setting out the U.K. government position on future relations, due to be published this month, has been delayed until July because the Cabinet cannot agree on a united stance.

Many businesses warn that failure to reach a free-trade agreement between Britain and the EU would be disastrous. European plane-maker Airbus warned Friday that it could leave Britain — where it employs about 14,000 people — if the country exits the EU without an agreement on future trading relations.

Katherine Bennett, the company’s senior vice-president in the U.K., said “a no-deal Brexit would be catastrophic.”

Meanwhile, thousands of opponents of Brexit planned to rally outside Parliament on Saturday, calling for a referendum on any divorce deal agreed between Britain and the EU.

Both the Conservatives and main opposition Labour Party oppose another referendum, but the centrist Liberal Democrats support one.

The party said leader Vince Cable would tell the crowd that “Brexit is not a done deal. Brexit is not inevitable. Brexit can be stopped.”

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