Get a grip, Mrs May – or we’ll go over a cliff
BORIS JOHNSON is a man of many talents – so eloquent and distinctive that he is famously said to reach parts of the electorate which other Tories can’t.
But even if we take at face value the Foreign Secretary’s protestations of loyalty to Theresa May, the timing of his 4,000-word Brexit opus is, to say the least, questionable – a ‘hand grenade through Downing Street’s window’, in the words of one of his allies, just hours after terrorists struck London.
It is hard to view this as anything other than a hostile act, coming less than a week before Mrs May sets out her own Brexit vision in a speech in Florence.
The presses were already rolling on Friday evening when his officials informed Mrs May about the newspaper article, giving her less than an hour’s notice of what was about to befall her.
The Prime Minister, distracted by allday crisis meetings on the Tube bomb, was completely blindsided.
Mr Johnson has clearly thrown down the gauntlet.
He denies he is firing the starting gun for a leadership challenge. But remember, this is the man who, as this newspaper has chronicled, was texting his support for the Prime Minister after her General Election catastrophe – while his allies were briefing that it was ‘Go, go, go!’ for him to take over if she fell.
Margaret Thatcher’s biographer Charles Moore, writing in the same paper as Mr Johnson’s article, describes it as ‘Boris’s leadership bid, couched in such a way that he need not unsay anything if it goes wrong’.
At the very least, it amounts to a pugnacious bid to influence the content of Mrs May’s speech – and not in a way which would advantage the country.
As talisman of the Leave campaign, and promulgator of the hugely controversial pledge to return £350million of Brussels money every week ‘to the NHS’, Mr Johnson has simmered with frustration as the Cabinet forms a settled view on the Brexit negotiations: that if we want to unlock talks over trade, we will need to hand over around £15billion a year to Brussels over a two- to three-year transition period, while protecting jobs by retaining access to the single market.
Mr Johnson is now virtually alone in Cabinet in advocating a damaging ‘hard’ Brexit, in which we would pay only a modest ‘divorce bill’ as we crash out of the EU.
The Prime Minister needs to put down this revolt by reasserting her grip on the Government – and making clear that Mr Johnson will not be allowed to back-seat drive this country towards a catastrophic, cliff-edge Brexit.