British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson sent a powerful message on Tuesday to Brexit negotiators in Brussels.
If they want Britain to pay an exorbitant fee for leaving the European Union, they will have to whistle for the money.
It’s a traditional way in colloquial English of saying, “we won’t be paying a penny.”
And in another choice use of Englishness, leading Conservative brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg had his own message for EU negotiators who said in a media interview Tuesday that they would not accept a Brexit deal on any terms.
Addressing veteran Labor MP Hilary Benn, Rees-Mogg said: “Does he share my view that what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander?”
Translated it means if Brussels won’t accept a deal at any price, neither will Britain.
The colorful exchanges came in a House of Commons debate on exiting the EU with questions directed at the foreign secretary.
Johnson said the British government is working to strengthen its relations with partners worldwide, adding: “As a champion of free trade, we will continue to seize the opportunities afforded by Brexit and guarantee our long-term global prosperity.”
Johnson told one Conservative MP Rachel Maclean: “She can reassure her constituents that not only will the excellent companies in her constituency be able to continue to enjoy free trade with the rest of the European Union — with the EU27 — but they will, of course, have the additional opportunity afforded by the new free trade deals that we will be able to strike with countries around the world.
“I am pleased to say that they were queuing up to make that point to the Prime Minister at the G20 in Hamburg,” Johnson said.
Conservative John Baron asked Johnson what lessons he could take from the Australian government, who negotiated free trade deals with China, Japan and South Korea in very short order by focusing on trade itself rather than getting bogged down in disputes with regard to standards, legalities and regulations?
Johnson responded by saying: “I think that, with a bit of gumption and a bit of positive energy, there is no limit to what we can achieve, and we should get on and do it. Of course, we cannot ink in the free trade deals now, but we can certainly pencil in the outlines.
Another Conservative Philip Hollobone said since Britain joined the EU in 1973 until the date Britain leaves, it will have given the EU and its predecessors, in today’s money in real terms, a total of 209 billion pounds (270 billion U.S. dollars).
“Will the Foreign Secretary make it clear to the EU that if it wants a penny piece more, it can go whistle?” said Hollobone.
Johnson responded: “I am sure that my hon. Friend’s words will have broken like a thunderclap over Brussels and they will pay attention to what he has said. He makes a very valid point; the sums that I have seen that they propose to demand from this country seem to me to be extortionate, and I think that to ‘go whistle’ is an entirely appropriate expression.”
Although Brussels has not set an “exit” fee for Britain, media reports have speculated it could be as high as 60 billion pounds (77 billion U.S. dollars).
Reacting to Rees-Mogg’s “goose and gander” comment, Johnson replied: “He makes a very good point about the negotiating stance of our friends and partners across the channel.
“They do sound at the moment pretty hard over, as we say in the Foreign Office, but I have no doubt that in the fullness of time a suppleness will descend, and a willingness to compromise, because, after all, a great Brexit deal, a great free trade deal, and a deep and special partnership is in the interests of both sides of the channel.”
Labor front bencher Emily Thornberry said to Johnson that given that a plan for no Brexit deal would be worse than that dereliction of duty, would be spell out publicly what no deal would mean?
“If he is not prepared to tell us that publicly, can he reassure us that at the very least he has a detailed private plan to manage that risk?”
Johnson’s reply was short: “There is no plan for no deal, because we are going to get a great deal.”