Am­ber Rudd says Boris John­son is 'back­seat driv­ing' over Brexit

The Guardian Australia - - Headlines /News - Anushka Asthana Po­lit­i­cal edi­tor

Am­ber Rudd has ac­cused Boris John­son of back­seat driv­ing as she ques­tioned the tim­ing of his 4,000-word vi­sion of Bri­tain’s de­par­ture from the EU and made clear that she did not want the for­eign sec­re­tary manag­ing the Brexit process.

The home sec­re­tary said she had “un­for­tu­nately not” had time to read her cabinet col­league’s en­tire ar­ti­cle, pub­lished in the Daily Tele­graph a day af­ter a ter­ror­ist at­tack on the Lon­don Un­der­ground.

“I had rather a lot to do on Fri­day – there was a bomb that nearly went off in Par­sons Green. Yes­ter­day I chaired Co­bra, I went to see the po­lice. I didn’t have time to read that piece,” she told BBC1’s The An­drew Marr show.

Rudd, whose com­ments were pointed to by Down­ing Street aides as rep­re­sen­ta­tive of gov­ern­ment think­ing, was also asked about the in­ter­ven­tion of the Con­ser­va­tive Scot­tish leader, Ruth David­son, who tweeted on Fri­day:

“I think she has a point – I had a very busy week­end deal­ing with what could have been a ter­ri­ble at­tack on our public trans­port,” Rudd said.

How­ever, an­other cabinet min­is­ter, Damian Green, made clear that John­son would not be sacked, and said the tim­ing was ac­cept­able be­cause “no­body wants to avoid any kind of de­bate about what is one of the most im­por­tant is­sues for decades to come”.

John­son’s dra­matic in­ter­ven­tion trig­gered a fierce de­bate within the Con­ser­va­tive party, with claims that he was once again work­ing with Michael Gove, who pre­vi­ously wrecked the for­eign sec­re­tary’s chances of lead­ing the Tory party. The in­ter­na­tional aid sec­re­tary, Priti Pa­tel, was also re­ported as be­ing a sup­porter of calls for a bolder ap­proach to Brexit.

John­son tweeted that he fully backed the prime min­is­ter and her speech, to be de­liv­ered in Florence on Fri­day, but many ac­cused him of launch­ing a lead­er­ship bid and try­ing to un­der­mine what is ex­pected to be a more con­cil­ia­tory ap­proach from May.

Some Tory MPs in­clud­ing cabinet col­leagues re­acted fu­ri­ously, call­ing for May to sack John­son, and claim­ing that his ar­ti­cle, which was not fully cleared by Down­ing Street, was dis­loyal and badly timed.

How­ever, Rudd said John­son was an “ir­re­press­ible en­thu­si­ast” about Brexit and that she did not see it as a lead­er­ship bid. “I think it is ab­so­lutely fine. I would ex­pect noth­ing less from Boris,” she said, al­though later sug­gested that time would tell whether it was a help­ful move or not.

The home sec­re­tary, who was a vo­cal and pas­sion­ate re­main cam­paigner in last year’s EU ref­er­en­dum, was also asked about her com­ments at the time that John­son was the “life and soul of the party but he is not the man you want driv­ing you home at the end of the evening”.

Choos­ing not to with­draw the com­ment, Rudd said: “What I meant by that is I don’t want him manag­ing the Brexit process. What we’ve got is Theresa May manag­ing that process. She is driv­ing the car – to con­tinue the al­le­gory – and I’m go­ing to make sure as far as I am con­cerned and the rest of the cabinet are con­cerned that I’m go­ing to help her do that.”

Asked whether what John­son had done was back­seat driv­ing, she replied: “Yes, you could call it back­seat driv­ing.”

She re­fused to be drawn on a key point made by John­son in the ar­ti­cle that £350m a week could be clawed back and spent on the NHS, hint­ing that leave cam­paign­ers had en­joyed forc­ing oth­ers to keep re­peat­ing the con­tro­ver­sial fig­ure.

“I’m not go­ing to re­fight the ref­er­en­dum and be drawn into that de­vice of theirs to talk about that num­ber,” she said, adding that the im­por­tant num­bers were 48% ver­sus 52% who voted to leave.

“I want to make sure that the gov­ern­ment de­liv­ers on that and brings as many of the 48 with us as well,” said Rudd, strik­ing a dif­fer­ent tone to col­leagues by stress­ing the need for a Brexit that unites the UK.

“I would say to [John­son] come with us and make sure you sup­port the gov­ern­ment on try­ing to unite peo­ple around the exit we are go­ing to de­liver.”

Speak­ing on Sun­day with Pater­son on Sky News, Green de­fended the for­eign sec­re­tary, say­ing: “The tim­ing of an in­di­vid­ual ar­ti­cle is much less im­por­tant than the ul­ti­mate re­sult. Ev­ery­one is work­ing to­wards the best pos­si­ble Brexit re­sult. They will want to see that we have a deal that en­hances our pros­per­ity.”

How­ever, in a sec­ond in­ter­view on the BBC’s Sun­day Pol­i­tics he too re­ferred to Rudd’s car anal­ogy. “It is clear that the driver of the car in this in­stance is the prime min­is­ter and it is the job of the rest of us in cabinet to agree to a set of pro­pos­als and then get be­hind those pro­pos­als.”

A spokesman for John­son said: “The prime min­is­ter is lead­ing the Brexit ne­go­ti­a­tions and Boris is fully be­hind her in get­ting the best deal.”

The gov­ern­ment is pre­par­ing to pub­lish its lat­est Brexit po­si­tion pa­per on Mon­day, on the ques­tion of se­cu­rity co­op­er­a­tion. Rudd re­vealed that the UK wanted a treaty that would al­low the UK to ac­cess the tools that it cur­rently has use of, in­clud­ing In­ter­pol, and said her dis­cus­sions with Euro­pean col­leagues had made her con­fi­dent that a deal would be reached.

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