Boris Johnson acknowledged a Brexit split with his brother Jo who quit the Government saying he had been “torn between family loyalty and the national interest”. He also said that he “would rather be dead in a ditch” than delay Brexit any further.
Jo Johnson, who had been a senior minister attending meetings of his brother’s Cabinet, said it was an “unresolvable tension”.
The Prime Minister said his brother “does not agree with me about the European Union because it’s an issue that obviously divides families and divides everybody”.
But he maintained his uncompromising stance over the October 31 Brexit date, saying he would rather be “dead in a ditch” than go to Brussels to ask for a further delay.
Jo Johnson announced on Twitter he was quitting his role as Universities Minister and would stand down as MP for Orpington.
He said: “In recent weeks I’ve been torn between family loyalty and the national interest – it’s an unresolvable tension & time for others to take on my roles as MP & Minister. #overandout”
Jo Johnson is pro-European and has previously called for a second referendum, a position that puts him at odds with the Prime Minister, who has vowed to leave the EU on October 31 with or without a Brexit deal.
Tensions over Europe within the family are well known, with sister Rachel Johnson joking “the family avoids the topic of Brexit especially at meals as we don’t want to gang up on the PM”.
It is understood Jo Johnson will stand down as an MP at the next election.
Speaking in Yorkshire, the Prime Minister said his younger brother was a “fantastic guy” and a “brilliant minister”.
Acknowledging the split on Europe he added: “What Jo would agree is that we need to get on and sort this thing out.”
Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner said: “Boris Johnson poses such a threat that even his own brother doesn’t trust him.”
Shadow policing minister Lou Haigh added: “If your own brother doesn’t believe you’re acting in the national interest, why should the country?”
Former justice secretary David Gauke, one of those who lost the whip for rebelling against the Government this week, said: “Lots of MPs have had to wrestle with conflicting loyalties in recent weeks.
“None more so than Jo. This is a big loss to Parliament, the Government and the Conservative Party.”
The shock resignation came as his brother geared up for an election campaign which will focus on his uncompromising approach to Brexit.
The Government will mount a fresh attempt to call an early election on Monday after failing in a bid last night to go to the country on October 15.
Opposition parties are in talks about how to respond to Mr Johnson’s call for a snap election, with concern about whether the poll should be delayed until after an extension has been secured to prevent a no-deal Brexit on October 31.
A cross-party bid to require the PM to ask for a Brexit extension if there is not a deal in place cleared the Commons on Wednesday and is due to complete its progress through the Lords on Friday.
Asked if he could make a promise to the public not to return to Brussels to ask for a further Brexit delay, the PM said: “Yes, I can.
“I would rather be dead in a ditch.”
But he declined to give a direct answer when asked if he would resign before requesting that delay.
Instead, he said: “It costs a billion pounds a month, it achieves absolutely nothing. What on Earth is the point of further delay? I think it’s totally, totally pointless.”
The Prime Minister said he hated “banging on about Brexit” and added: “I don’t want an election at all, but frankly I cannot see any other way.
“The only way to get this thing done, to get this thing moving, is to make that decision.
“Do you want this Government to take us out on October 31 or do you want Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party to go to that crucial summit in Brussels on October 17, effectively hand over control to the EU and keep us in beyond October 31?
“I think it’s a no-brainer and I’m sorry to bring this painful subject up this afternoon but that’s the reality of what we face and for me there can only be one way forward for our country.”
Meanwhile, the fallout continued from Mr Johnson’s decision to remove the Tory whip from 21 MPs, including former chancellors Philip Hammond and Kenneth Clarke, after they rebelled over the plan to block a no-deal Brexit.
Cabinet ministers reportedly raised concerns with Mr Johnson, and the One Nation group of Conservatives called for the 21 to be reinstated.
One Nation group leader and former Cabinet minister Damian Green told the BBC: “I’m afraid it does look as though somebody has decided that the moderate, progressive wing of the Conservative Party is not wanted on voyage.”
Chancellor Sajid Javid told LBC Radio he was “saddened” by the decision, adding: “I would like to see those colleagues come back at some point but right now the Prime Minister had no choice.”