Brothers ‘united in dismay’ at PM’S deal
Remainer Jo Johnson quits over Brexit, saying he shares the frustration of Leave-supporting Boris
THERESA MAY’S hopes of getting a Brexit deal through Parliament were dealt a major blow last night after Jo Johnson, the transport minister, resigned so he could vote against the Prime Minister’s “terrible mistake”.
The Remain-supporting brother of Boris Johnson said Britain now “stands on the brink of the greatest crisis since the Second World War”, with Mrs May about to present MPS with a choice between “vassalage and chaos”.
He said he and Boris – who led the Leave campaign – were now “united in dismay” as he accused Mrs May of the worst “failure of British statecraft” since the Suez crisis. He said he now backed a second EU referendum.
Having lost both Johnson brothers from her Government, Mrs May faces the combined heft of their opposition as Boris leads the Brexiteer revolt against her plans and Jo rallies the Remainers.
Downing Street had hoped Jo Johnson would help persuade fellow Tory Europhiles to back the withdrawal agreement – which Mrs May wants to finalise next week – but instead there are now fears that other ministers could follow him out of the door. The crisis deepened as the DUP, whose 10 MPS give Mrs May her working majority, threatened to vote against the deal after she hinted she could sign up to a Northern Ireland-only backstop agreement.
Writing in The Daily Telegraph, Arlene Foster says Mrs May will “handcuff the UK to the EU, with the EU holding the keys” and claims she has the backing of Cabinet ministers.
It means Mrs May now faces the very real possibility of defeat in the Commons vote on the Brexit deal, which is expected next month. That in turn would increase the chances of a nodeal Brexit or a general election.
Mr Johnson said in a blog that Mrs May was trying to “con” the British people because “what is now being proposed won’t be anything like what was promised two years ago”.
He said Boris “recently observed that the proposed arrangements were ‘substantially worse than staying in the EU’”, adding: “On that he is unquestionably right. If these negotiations have achieved little else, they have at least united us in fraternal dismay.”
He said “a no-deal outcome may well be better than the never-ending purgatory the Prime Minister is offering the country” and said it was time to ask voters if they still wanted Brexit.
Boris Johnson, who resigned as foreign secretary over Mrs May’s Chequers plan for Brexit, tweeted his “boundless admiration” for his brother, while the Remain-supporting Tories Heidi Allen and Anna Soubry also backed his stance. Mrs May yesterday held Brexit talks with Emmanuel Macron during a trip to France to take part in First World War commemoration events.
IN BRITAIN’S post-war politics few families, if any, have been both as ever-present and influential as the Johnsons. From the father Stanley’s unremarkable beginnings in the West Country, they’ve climbed the twin summits of journalism and politics to become a central feature of Westminster. Like rats, “in London, you’re never more than a few feet from at least two Johnsons” joked Rachel Johnson in an article last year. Until now, however, the rest of the Johnsons have been only a supporting cast in the extravaganza that is Boris’s political career.
That is until Jo Johnson chose to resign from the Cabinet yesterday and back calls for a second referendum. While Boris was quick to back his brother – if not a “people’s vote” – and Jo talked of being “united… in fraternal dismay”, might the two now face off in a Cain and Abel like struggle for the future of Britain, with Boris at the head of a revived Brexit campaign and Jo gathering the renewed forces of Remain around him?
Boris’s rise is well known. From Brussels Correspondent for The Daily Telegraph to editor of The Spectator, twice an MP either side of being Mayor of London, then figurehead for Vote Leave, failed leadership candidate, and latterly Foreign Secretary.
His brother Jo, younger by seven years, was always the quiet one. He too made his name in journalism. But rather than mimicking the exuberant reporting of his elder brother in this newspaper, he pursued a slow, steady and considered career at the Financial Times, with postings in Paris and New Delhi, before turning to politics.
In his early years in the House, the distinction stuck. Jo declared during his maiden speech: “Anyone hoping that I will enliven proceedings in the manner of my elder brother, the former Member for Henley, is likely to be disappointed.”
Once in Parliament, the quiet progression continued: director of No10’s policy unit, minister for the cabinet office, then minister for universities. Step by step, no catapulting straight from the back benches into a great office of state like his brother.
Yet few who know him would doubt Jo’s ambition. And after the 2017 election, he appeared to be sharpening his leadership credentials. The staid policy wonk was suddenly taking on a very public offensive against the threat to free speech in universities and appointing Toby Young, the Right-wing provocateur, as head of the universities watchdog. The latter move was behind his effective demotion to the rather less public role of transport minister.
But now, in becoming the first minister to resign in order to push for a second referendum, might he become the leader Remainer MPS crave and be the Johnson to finally cross the threshold of No10?
It would take one hell of a performance and a series of highly unlikely events to unite the Tory party behind a Remainer, but the idea that Jo might bolt from the sidelines to pip Boris to Downing Street would be the ultimate slap in the face for the former Foreign Secretary.
However famous Boris has become, his younger brother’s intellectual achievements have always been a
‘A victory for his younger brother would be the second time Boris was outdone by a man he sees as his junior’
cause for jealousy. While both went to Eton and then Balliol College Oxford, only Jo achieved a first. When Boris’s sister Rachel rang to tell him the result, she asked: “Have you heard the bad news about Jo? He got a first.”
A victory for his younger brother would be the second time Boris was outdone by a man he perceives as his junior. David Cameron was two years below him at Eton, and masters barely recall him. Johnson was a veritable star, destined for glory. Yet it was Boris having to show deference to Dave the Prime Minister, a bona fide member of the elite from birth who leapfrogged him to power.
Beaten once by a younger, more privileged schoolmate, might he be stung once more by a younger, sharper sibling?
Jo Johnson, so frequently overshadowed by Boris, left, pictured leaving Parliament yesterday after resigning as transport minister