Gove and Patel back Boris vision for Brexit
Cabinet ministers support calls for bolder approach, but May allies react with fury
MICHAEL GOVE and Priti Patel have thrown their weight behind Boris Johnson’s bid to pressure Theresa May into delivering a bolder and more optimistic Brexit.
The two Cabinet ministers, who led the Vote Leave referendum campaign with Mr Johnson last year, are backing his demand that, after Brexit, Britain makes good on a pledge to spend some of the hundreds of millions that the UK sends to the EU on the NHS.
The Foreign Secretary set out his vision for post-Brexit Britain in a 4,0000word article in yesterday’s Telegraph. It sent a shock wave through Westminster and was seen by Mr Johnson’s critics as an attempt to reignite his hopes of leading the Conservative Party.
Mr Johnson published his plans after he was left “fuming” that a key Downing Street committee met without him last week. He had planned to set out his March 2019 Brexit vision in a major speech but was unable to do so.
It came as Mrs May was putting the finishing touches to her own 5,000word vision for Britain after Brexit, which she will deliver as a speech on Friday in Florence, Italy.
Mr Johnson is understood to have become alarmed by rumours that Mrs May wants to signal that Britain is prepared to pay a Brexit bill running into tens of billions of pounds.
The Sunday Telegraph can disclose that Mr Gove, the Environment Secre- tary, and Ms Patel, the International Development Secretary, both support spending a large proportion of the money currently sent to Brussels on the NHS after Brexit.
Mr Johnson and Mr Gove are said by colleagues to be “talking and engaging again”, despite their falling out last year when Mr Gove first backed, and then withdrew, his support for Mr Johnson to be Tory leader. A Whitehall source said: “Boris and Michael have said to Downing Street that the £350million [NHS funding] promise was made to Leave voters and we’ve got to follow through with that when we leave the EU. Both of them are also of one mind when it comes to the Brexit bill.”
Mr Gove’s former adviser, Dominic Cummings, who was Vote Leave’s campaign director, also weighed in yesterday, supporting Mr Johnson’s plans for the NHS, a reformed tax system and a housing policy. The collaboration between the three leading Brexiteers has intriguing implications for any future leadership bid by Mr Johnson, who has told friends he will not challenge Mrs May before Brexit has taken place.
Ms Patel is also keen on a more upbeat and pro-free market Brexit. One of her friends said: “The principle has to be that government policy is reclaiming control of our money and that gives us the freedom to spend it however we
wish on our domestic priorities, which is what she said during the campaign.”
Mr Johnson’s decision to repeat the £350million figure in his article on Saturday has raised eyebrows because the figure was criticised by the UK Statistics Authority during the Brexit campaign, which said that Britain’s net contribution to the EU was only £248million, as the UK receives a rebate.
There was a caustic reaction from other ministers with some calling on Mrs May to sack Mr Johnson. One said it “just p----- us off ” that Mr Johnson had raised the £350million claim again.
Philip Hammond, the Chancellor, was also said to be “very angry” about the article, which pointed out the Treasury, “has not so far sought to punish the British people with an emergency budget”. A former Conservative minister said Mr Johnson was now “sailing within an inch of being thrown out of the Government”.
But Gerard Lyons, an economic adviser to Mr Johnson when he was Mayor of London, backed Mr Johnson’s vision of a bolder, cleaner Brexit in a new book serialised in today’s Sunday Telegraph.
No 10 attempted to downplay any rift with Mr Johnson. One Downing Street source said: “These are Boris’s well-known, well-publicised views.
“He is restating his position and is very clearly backing the PM’s strategy on Europe. We see it as trying to make sure that his views are reflected in the Florence speech.”
Daniel Hannan: Page 20 Gerard Lyons: Business
Boris Johnson left his London home for the country yesterday after his Brexit intervention sent shock waves through the Tory Party