John­son in open re­volt over soft Brexit as he ‘lobs hand grenade into No10’

The Scottish Mail on Sunday - - Front Page - By Si­mon Wal­ters

AL­LIES of Theresa May last night ac­cused Boris John­son of treach­ery af­ter he staged an open re­volt over her plans for a ‘soft’ Brexit.

The Prime Min­is­ter was said to be fu­ri­ous af­ter the For­eign Sec­re­tary said Bri­tain should refuse

to pay the EU a big di­vorce bill – and did not bother to tell her about his bomb­shell in­ter­ven­tion in ad­vance.

One of John­son’s most prom­i­nent ‘hard Brexit’ Con­ser­va­tive MP sup­port­ers boasted: ‘He has just lobbed a hand grenade through Down­ing Street’s win­dow.’

Fel­low Cab­i­net Min­is­ters claimed Mr John­son’s Churchillian Brexit man­i­festo was a bla­tant at­tempt to oust Mrs May. And one for­mer Min­is­ter said the PM should ‘have the balls’ to fire Mr John­son for threat­en­ing to sab­o­tage her own ma­jor Brexit speech in Florence this week.

Down­ing Street of­fi­cials de­nied there was a rift be­tween the two and said Mr John­son’s job was safe. But Cab­i­net Min­is­ters loyal to Mrs May pri­vately de­nounced his ‘hos­tile’ in­ter­ven­tion. One said the PM was ‘deeply dis­ap­pointed’ – politi­cian’s code for livid.

An­other ac­cused John­son of ‘at­ten­tion seek­ing’. There were claims, de­nied by the John­son camp, that he was pre­par­ing to re­sign in an­tic­i­pa­tion of a ‘soft Brexit sell-out’ by Mrs May.

Brexit Sec­re­tary David Davis was re­port­edly an­gry with John­son for

‘Dis­ap­point­ing, hos­tile and at­ten­tion-seek­ing’

re­viv­ing his con­tro­ver­sial claim from the EU ref­er­en­dum that Bri­tain would be £350mil­lion a week bet­ter off out­side the EU.

‘DD’s view is that it was wrong for Boris to make the £350 mil­lion claim then and he is wrong to bring it up now,’ said a well-placed source.

A close ally of John­son’s big­gest Cab­i­net foe, Chan­cel­lor Philip Hammond, said: ‘This just con­firms sus­pi­cions about Boris’s am­bi­tions.

‘It is dis­loyal and dam­ag­ing for the Party and for get­ting a deal with the EU be­cause it sug­gests di­vi­sion and chaos. His £350mil­lion claim is the most no­to­ri­ous and dis­cred­ited statis­tic in modern Bri­tish his­tory. If his cred­i­bil­ity de­pends on that fig­ure, it doesn’t say much for his cred­i­bil­ity.’

One of Mrs May’s close con­fi­dants de­scribed John­son’s con­duct as ‘ex­tra­or­di­nary and hos­tile,’ adding: ‘It is just at­ten­tion-seek­ing. I have given up try­ing to an­a­lyse what Boris says, he is in­fu­ri­at­ing and just des­per­ate for head­lines. If he re­signed he would be fin­ished.’

The row flared af­ter John­son set out his own vi­sion for Brexit in a 4,000-word ar­ti­cle in the Daily Tele­graph. In an as­ton­ish­ingly open act of de­fi­ance, he re­fused to in­form Mrs May un­til mo­ments be­fore it was pub­lished.

John­son ar­gued Bri­tain should not carry on pay­ing into EU cof­fers af­ter Brexit in 2019 and said that stay­ing in the sin­gle mar­ket would make a ‘com­plete mock­ery’ of the ref­er­en­dum.

His com­ments fol­low re­ports that Mrs May is pre­par­ing to pay up to £40 bil­lion in a Brexit di­vorce bill to keep ac­cess to the sin­gle mar­ket over a two-year tran­si­tion.

John­son won praise from lead­ing Brex­i­teer Tories. Ja­cob Rees-Mogg, seen by some as a lead­er­ship ri­val to John­son, praised ‘bril­liant Boris’ while Zac Gold­smith and Na­dine Dor­ries also pledged sup­port.

Most, but sig­nif­i­cantly not all, pro-Re­main MPs sav­aged John­son. A lead­ing pro-EU ex-Min­is­ter said: ‘Theresa should have the balls to sack Boris. It would be high risk but if she moved quickly – and squared off David Davis about it – she could and should do it.’

The se­nior fig­ure ar­gued that John­son had ‘pan­icked’ be­cause ‘he knows most of the Cab­i­net re­alises the only sen­si­ble Brexit is a soft Brexit and that we will have to pay a size­able sum.’

How­ever, Mrs May’s frail grip on power was re­flected by the fact John­son re­ceived em­phatic back­ing from a dis­tin­guished Tory grandee known for his pas­sion­ate pro-EU views. He said: ‘Even though I am a strong Re­mainer I agree with much of what Boris says and don’t be­lieve he is be­ing dis­loyal. We are cry­ing out for lead­er­ship and at least Boris he has got off his a*** and given us some. Brexit is our big­gest cri­sis since 1940 and we won’t get far sit­ting around look­ing at our belly but­tons.’

With Brexit talks close to break­down and Mrs May un­der fire for her botched snap Elec­tion, Con­ser­va­tive Party man­agers fear John­son’s out­burst could trig­ger a full-scale lead­er­ship cri­sis at the party con­fer­ence in two weeks.

Davis, Home Sec­re­tary Am­ber Rudd, Rees-Mogg and other Tories have been tipped to throw their hats into the ring if Mrs May re­signs.

Some Cab­i­net Min­is­ters be­lieve En­vi­ron­ment Sec­re­tary Michael Gove could be in ca­hoots with John­son, de­spite their spec­tac­u­lar fall­out last year when Gove sab­o­taged John­son’s bid to suc­ceed David Cameron af­ter they had led the Brexit cam­paign to­gether.

Mr Gove de­nied any col­lu­sion. A spokesman said last night: ‘The first Michael knew about Boris’s ar­ti­cle was when it was pub­lished on Friday night.’

Af­ter pleas from No10 to make it clear he was not plot­ting against Mrs May, John­son, ap­par­ently un­con­cerned by the furore he had started, tweeted jaun­tily: ‘Look­ing for­ward to PM’s Florence speech. All be­hind Theresa for a glo­ri­ous Brexit.’

LON­DON had a lucky es­cape on Friday. But still there were 29 peo­ple in­jured in a ter­ror at­tack on a Tube train and a fa­nat­i­cal bomber on the loose, lead­ing the Prime Min­is­ter to put the na­tion on high­est alert. As se­cu­rity forces searched the coun­try, the For­eign Sec­re­tary was fo­cused on some­thing closer to home. Boris John­son was pub­lish­ing a 4,000-word plea for the hard­est pos­si­ble Brexit.

This act of sab­o­tage against fel­low Min­is­ters was jaw-drop­ping on so many lev­els – even for a politi­cian for whom am­bi­tion is like a flesh-eat­ing dis­ease cours­ing through his body.

For a start there was the tim­ing, in the midst of a ter­ror hunt. It was bad enough to see the US Pres­i­dent tweet­ing claims that ‘loser ter­ror­ists’ were ‘in the sights of Scot­land Yard’.

Far worse to see Boris, an­other self-ab­sorbed na­tion­al­ist des­per­ate to lead his coun­try but also a se­nior Cab­i­net Min­is­ter, choos­ing this mo­ment to stake out his lead­er­ship stance in the newspaper that for so long paid his wages.

Be­hind the bonhomie lurks a char­ac­ter who cares only about putting Boris first, for all his empty Trumpian words about mak­ing Bri­tain great again.

Clearly his magnum opus for the Daily Tele­graph was a well cal­i­brated op­er­a­tion, given sup­port­ive col­umns else­where in the newspaper and al­lies de­fend­ing him in­stantly in the me­dia.

It was also an un­prece­dented chal­lenge from a serv­ing For­eign Sec­re­tary to the Prime Min­is­ter, com­ing just days be­fore Theresa May de­liv­ers a piv­otal speech on Brexit and a cou­ple of weeks be­fore a crit­i­cal Tory Party Con­fer­ence.

This was an ul­ti­ma­tum – and it shows the stun­ning weak­ness of Mrs May af­ter her Elec­tion de­ba­cle that she is un­able to sack a Min­is­ter gone so rogue.

Then there is the con­tent of his brazen po­si­tion­ing state­ment, a mix of half-truths and false­hoods wrapped in the Union Flag and flung in the face of col­leagues as they grap­ple with Bri­tain’s big­gest co­nun­drum since the Sec­ond World War.

Boris even re­vives the ridiculed claim that Brexit means the NHS will get a £350mil­liona-week boost. He in­sists Bri­tain should not make any post Brexit pay­ments to the EU – yet my sources say the only is­sue un­der dis­cus­sion as re­al­ism de­scends around the Cab­i­net ta­ble is how much Bri­tain should give af­ter de­par­ture.

Boris also says on­go­ing mem­ber­ship of the Sin­gle Mar­ket and Cus­toms Union would make a ‘com­plete mock­ery’ of last year’s vote.

STRANGELY, he used to say things like: ‘I’m in favour of the sin­gle mar­ket. I want us to be able to trade with our European friends and part­ners.’ But then Boris has never shown con­sis­tency in his views when they clash with his am­bi­tions.

His Brexit man­i­festo – which reads like the speech he was rightly barred from giv­ing by Down­ing Street – is disin­gen­u­ous from start to fin­ish.

Here are two points, taken at ran­dom. He claims hous­ing prices in Lon­don are pushed up by for­eign buy­ers, yet it is point­less to tax them since EU cit­i­zens can­not legally be classed as for­eign.

Surely the for­mer Mayor of Lon­don knows the ma­jor­ity of for­eign buy­ers come from south-east­ern Asian coun­tries? Mind you, Boris did baf­flingly lit­tle to al­le­vi­ate the hous­ing cri­sis when over­see­ing the cap­i­tal.

He also sug­gests Bri­tain could ac­cel­er­ate work on gene ther­apy ‘freed from EU regimes’. Yet on Thurs­day I was at a din­ner with lead­ing re­searchers into epilepsy at the fore­front of such ad­vances – and they said the ex­act op­po­site.

These sci­en­tists, mak­ing ma­jor ad­vances on a life-threat­en­ing neu­ro­log­i­cal con­di­tion that af­flicts my daugh­ter, spoke of their fears over los­ing both EU col­leagues and fund­ing – of which Bri­tain is among the big­gest net ben­e­fi­cia­ries – af­ter Brexit.

So why do we see this des­per­ate act of dis­loy­alty? ‘The depth of Boris’s psy­chol­ogy is be­yond my ca­pa­bil­ity to cal­cu­late,’ said one Cab­i­net col­league. ‘But I think he is feel­ing in­se­cure.’

Clearly he has been hurt by wide­spread crit­i­cism. He has been side­lined over Brexit, while there were re­cent rev­e­la­tions he is so ill-dis­ci­plined that even his own civil ser­vants see his deputy when need­ing a de­ci­sion.

Sources say he has been alarmed to see Ja­cob ReesMogg, an­other car­toon­ish Old Eto­nian, emerge as the dar­ling of ac­tivists while his own star is dim­ming.

Boris has shriv­elled in the spot­light as For­eign Sec­re­tary. He was even found to be eco­nom­i­cal with the truth when he claimed the air­craft that flew him to the Caribbean – fol­low­ing his depart­ment’s slug­gish re­sponse to a dev­as­tat­ing hur­ri­cane – was packed with aid. It wasn’t.

So now he is try­ing to take back con­trol – of his own destiny, his adopted cause and, ul­ti­mately, his coun­try – by un­leash­ing a po­lit­i­cal storm of his own mak­ing.

Once he posed as a lib­eral Tory. Now he is po­si­tion­ing him­self as cham­pion of the na­tion­al­ist Right, ready to ar­gue Brexit has been usurped so he can re­sign to launch an­other lead­er­ship as­sault.

Never mind that the last one ended in ab­ject hu­mil­i­a­tion.

BUT nat­u­rally he seeks to have his cake and eat it by pro­fess­ing loy­alty to the PM – al­though you had to read thou­sands of words be­fore find­ing any men­tion of Mrs May in his overblown man­i­festo. He even man­ages to shoot down Tory ef­forts to win back younger vot­ers by say­ing young anti-Brexit Bri­tons have ‘split al­le­giances’ and ques­tion­ing their pa­tri­o­tism.

Sadly, as the claims of hard Brex­i­teers get mugged by the re­al­ity of with­drawal, we see more and more of this dis­grace­ful ques­tion­ing of other peo­ple’s pa­tri­o­tism sim­ply be­cause they be­lieve de­par­ture re­mains a dis­as­trous idea.

Boris sees him­self as a modern-day Churchill, a ti­tanic fig­ure who can come in from the cold to res­cue his coun­try amid na­tional cri­sis.

The re­al­ity is more pro­saic. He is a flaky op­por­tunist who helped cause the cri­sis.

As his for­mer ally Michael Gove dis­cov­ered, he is not suited to lead­er­ship.

Not even a ter­ror­ist at­tack fails to di­vert him from ruth­less fo­cus on his own fu­ture. Yet he has the temer­ity to ques­tion the pa­tri­o­tism of oth­ers.

The Home Sec­re­tary, Am­ber Rudd, once said Boris was not the sort of man you could trust to drive you home from a party. So will she and her fel­low Tories re­ally let him steer the coun­try when such a tor­tur­ous road lies ahead?

He is a flaky op­por­tunist who helped cause the cri­sis

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