‘Grow up or go,’ Boris John­son warned

Con­ster­na­tion at for­eign sec­re­tary’s ‘di­vi­sive’ pol­icy pro­nounce­ments

The Guardian Weekly - - Uk News - Anushka Asthana Rowena Ma­son Peter Walker Boris John­son came un­der fire at the Con­ser­va­tive party con­fer­ence

Boris John­son was ac­cused of desta­bil­is­ing the gov­ern­ment at the Con­ser­va­tive party con­fer­ence last Sun­day by busi­ness lead­ers who warned that cabi­net divi­sion was un­der­min­ing eco­nomic con­fi­dence and by Tory MPs who texted him de­mand­ing that he re­sign as for­eign sec­re­tary.

Adam Mar­shall, direc­tor gen­eral of the Bri­tish Chambers of Com­merce, said there was grow­ing im­pa­tience with “divi­sion and dis­or­gan­i­sa­tion at the heart of the party of gov­ern­ment”, par­tic­u­larly with pub­lic dis­agree­ments on Brexit. Mar­shall said com­pa­nies wanted a “com­pre­hen­sive tran­si­tion pe­riod, last­ing at least three years” – in con­trast to John­son’s in­sis­tence on just two years. He said they had made it “very clear they ex­pect com­pe­tence and co­her­ence from min­is­ters as we move into a crit­i­cal pe­riod for the econ­omy”.

The dam­ag­ing in­ter­ven­tion came as Theresa May at­tempted to re­launch her pre­mier­ship dur­ing this week’s four-day event in Manch­ester, amid what the Scot­tish Con­ser­va­tive leader, Ruth David­son, called a “psy­chodrama” over the party’s di­rec­tion. As some se­nior party mem­bers gave their views pub­licly, sources told the Guardian that back­bench MPs had sent John­son text mes­sages urg­ing him to re­sign be­cause of what they saw as dis­loy­alty to the prime min­is­ter.

Con­ser­va­tives tried to keep the fo­cus on pol­icy with a se­ries of an­nounce­ments, in­clud­ing: • A pitch from May to young peo­ple promis­ing to freeze tuition fees while min­is­ters look again at the sys­tem. • Plans for a fur­ther £10bn ($13bn) for the help-to-buy home pur­chas­ing scheme from the com­mu­ni­ties sec­re­tary, Sa­jid Javid. • A £300m pack­age from the chan­cel­lor, Philip Ham­mond, to link the planned HS2 high-speed rail­way up to cities not in­cluded on the route.

But ten­sions at the top of the party con­tin­ued af­ter John­son gave an in­ter­view to the Sun set­ting out his four red lines for Brexit talks. His pre­vi­ous Tele­graph ar­ti­cle had led to dam­ag­ing head­lines be­fore May’s speech in Florence. The Tory MP Anna Soubry, who favours a soft Brexit, tweeted last Satur­day that he “must grow up or go”.

Nicky Mor­gan, the for­mer ed­u­ca­tion sec­re­tary, said John­son “had to go” un­less he came into line. She said on BBC Radio 4’s West­min­ster Hour: “If he can’t keep stumm about his own views, if he can’t give up the oxy­gen of pub­lic­ity, if he can’t stop set­ting down ar­bi­trary red lines, then yes, he has to go. And the chief whip, or the prime min­is­ter, has to de­liver that mes­sage.”

Oth­ers de­fended John­son, in­sist­ing he wanted to en­sure the Brexit vote was ful­filled. Michael Gove, the en­vi­ron­ment sec­re­tary, said John­son was speak­ing “from the heart” over Brexit. “It’s some­thing about which he feels deeply and pas­sion­ately.” May was forced to in­sist the cabi­net was united and she would be leader “for the long term” but re­fused to say whether John­son was “un­sack­able”.

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