How a po­lit­i­cal bond came out of the deep freeze

The Guardian - G2 - - Shortcuts - Jonathan Freed­land

Not too long ago Michael Gove would de­scribe his once-close re­la­tion­ship with Boris John­son as be­ing in the “deep freeze”. Such froideur was in­evitable, given the way Gove had tor­pe­doed his chum’s bid to re­place David Cameron as Tory party leader and prime min­is­ter. You’ll re­call that fine June day in 2016 when John­son was poised to launch his cam­paign for the top job – the room was booked, the acolytes as­sem­bled – only to ditch the plan once Gove, his fel­low trav­eller just a few days ear­lier on the £350m Vote Leave bat­tle­bus, an­nounced that he had “come, re­luc­tantly, to the con­clu­sion that Boris can­not pro­vide the lead­er­ship or build the team for the task ahead”.

Most friend­ships don’t get over a blow like that. Gove hadn’t stabbed John­son in the back,

Tory MPS agreed: he had stabbed him in the front. Or­di­nar­ily, an act of be­trayal so com­plete would see all ties sev­ered for ever, the re­la­tion­ship dumped in a shal­low grave. Putting it in a “deep freeze” rep­re­sented an act of le­niency.

Well, now the duo have reached for the mi­crowave and set it on full-power de­frost. Ap­par­ently, the for­mer jour­nal­ists shared a bot­tle of mer­lot to­gether in Septem­ber and de­cided to write a joint by­lined let­ter to the prime min­is­ter, urg­ing her to stand firm on Brexit and to al­low no back­slid­ing from those not demon­strat­ing “suf­fi­cient en­ergy” for the task.

The let­ter seems to be a barely coded at­tack on the pro-re­main chan­cel­lor, Philip Ham­mond, and the tim­ing of its emer­gence surely no co­in­ci­dence: Ham­mond de­liv­ers his bud­get next week. But what makes it so strik­ing is its joint au­thor­ship, by two men you’d have thought would never speak to each other again. Of what ex­tra­or­di­nary bones and lig­a­ments are the friend­ships of politi­cians con­structed that they can heal so eas­ily?

The an­swer, surely, lies in pol­i­tics. These two are now true be­liev­ers in Brexit – even if, in John­son’s case, it’s not ob­vi­ous that he al­ways was – and they can see the cur­rent risk to the project. With warn­ing bells from busi­ness and oth­ers go­ing off daily, they fear de­lay, di­lu­tion or even an in­def­i­nite post­pone­ment in the name of “tran­si­tion”. As the lead cam­paign­ers for Brexit, they need it to hap­pen and to suc­ceed – oth­er­wise they will be for­ever as­so­ci­ated with its fail­ure.

This also ex­plains why they can get away with is­su­ing writ­ten de­marches to the prime min­is­ter: since they were the pub­lic faces of leave, their pres­ence in the cab­i­net vouches for Theresa May’s com­mit­ment to Brexit. If she sacked them, the Brex­iters would surely turn on her. So Gove and John­son are im­mune, which is why Nicky Mor­gan sug­gests they are part of a “gov­ern­ment within the gov­ern­ment”.

It’s too soon to sug­gest they’re back on ma­noeu­vres, ready­ing an­other lead­er­ship bid. But still, it seems in­cred­i­ble that they’re once again sip­ping mer­lot to­gether just 17 months af­ter the great rup­ture. In­cred­i­ble to you and me, cer­tainly. But time moves dif­fer­ently for politi­cians. As one MP told me yes­ter­day: “Sev­en­teen months is a really long time in pol­i­tics.”

Gove and Brex­iter bud­dies broke up (above)

John­son ref­er­en­dum EU af­ter the up over mer­lot and made

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