Boris Johnson has vowed the UK will break out of the “manacles” of the EU like the Incredible Hulk – as his Brexit secretary revealed a “landing zone” is in sight for a deal with Brussels.
Using the comic book analogy, the prime minister said Britain would be like Dr Robert Bruce Banner – Hulk’s physically weak and withdrawn physicist alter ego – who transformed into the green-skinned superhero when he became angry.
“Banner might be bound in manacles, but when provoked he would explode out of them,” Mr Johnson told the Mail on Sunday.
“Hulk always escaped, no matter how tightly bound in he seemed to be – and that is the case for this country. We will come out on 31 October and we will get it done.”
“The madder Hulk gets, the stronger Hulk gets,” he added.
Mr Johnson said there were “real signs of movement” among European leaders about ditching the Irish border backstop from the UK’s current withdrawal agreement, which has been a major obstacle to progress so far.
The backstop is a customs plan to avoid a “hard” border between Ireland and Northern Ireland if a free trade deal between the UK and EU is not reached.
Mr Johnson said that if negotiations broke down he would ignore a House of Commons vote ordering him to delay the UK’s departure.
No 10 strategists have said they have a secret plan which will allow them to ignore the order without breaking the law.
Most legal experts are sceptical about this, however.
Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme that a “landing zone” is in sight for a deal with the EU following “extensive talks” at both a technical and political level.
“There has been a huge amount of work going on behind the scenes. We can see a landing zone in terms of a future deal but there is significant work still to do,” he said.
Asked about the prime minister’s comparison between the UK and the Incredible Hulk, Mr Barclay said: “The Hulk was a winner and was extremely popular and I’d rather be backing a character and a leader who is The Hulk rather than one who is on the chicken run as [Labour leader] Jeremy Corbyn is.”
Mr Barclay revealed he will meet with the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier on Monday, with the prime minister due to meet European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker on the same day.
The PM seemed confident about the prospects of reaching a Brexit deal in time, telling the Mail on Sunday he thinks “we will get there” and that a “huge amount of progress is being made”.
He said: “I will be talking to Jean-Claude about how we’re going to do it. I’m very confident.”
However, Downing Street has cautioned that Monday’s meetings will not be a “big breakthrough” moment in the government’s bid to strike a deal with Brussels.
The European Parliament’s Brexit coordinator, Guy Verhofstadt MEP, said of Mr Johnson’s Hulk analogy: “Even to Trumpian standards the Hulk comparison is infantile.
“Is the EU supposed to be scared by this? The British public impressed? Is this Boris Johnson whistling in the dark?”