Boris in­ter­ven­tion is wel­come but should not form a lead­er­ship bid

The Sunday Telegraph - - Brexit Special - By Nor­man La­mont FOR­MER TORY CHAN­CEL­LOR

Boris John­son has set out a very com­pre­hen­sive blue­print for the fu­ture of the UK af­ter Brexit. Many peo­ple have wanted that, and I be­lieve it should be wel­comed.

But I very much hope that this is not seen by him as a lead­er­ship bid. I say that as some­one who ad­mires Boris, and who thinks that maybe he one day could in­deed be our leader.

Any such bid at this mo­ment would be doomed to fail. Theresa May has had a bruis­ing time, but I be­lieve her author­ity is re­cov­er­ing, and will re­cover even more as the Brexit process con­tin­ues.

The com­fort­able ma­jor­ity with which the EU With­drawal Bill passed its se­cond read­ing and the pub­li­ca­tion of the Gov­ern­ment’s po­si­tion pa­pers inspire con­fi­dence – though you wouldn’t think it from the shrill crit­i­cisms raised by those who re­ally only want to frus­trate what has been de­cided in the ref­er­en­dum. Even af­ter 2019, there will be no clean break; there will be tran­si­tion ar­range­ments and many other things still to be ar­gued about.

So it is over­whelm­ingly in Bri­tain’s in­ter­est, and the Con­ser­va­tive party’s, that the PM stay for the fore­see­able fu­ture. If Boris re­motely had a lead­er­ship chal­lenge in mind, it would be a great mis­take. Hap­pily, I don’t think he does; it seems more likely that he has been stirred by the rather un­fair crit­i­cism that he is not mak­ing an im­pact as For­eign Sec­re­tary. And if he does in­tend oth­er­wise, I’m sure some­one will re­mind him that he who wields the knife never wears the crown.

Hav­ing said all that, I am glad he has writ­ten his ar­ti­cle – though it would have been much bet­ter as a speech. I am al­ways tem­per­a­men­tally scep­ti­cal when peo­ple claim we need “vi­sion”, but on the is­sue of Brexit we do need clar­ity and re­as­sur­ance.

At­tempts to un­der­mine the process, to frus­trate what’s be­ing done, are tan­gi­bly and vis­i­bly hav­ing an ef­fect on the econ­omy.

It is leav­ing some peo­ple to think the Gov­ern­ment is not go­ing to de­liver. What Boris is con­firm­ing is that we have the stamina and the de­ter­mi­na­tion to see this task through. I’ve al­ways be­lieved Boris is a per­son of con­vic­tion, as his ar­ti­cles in The Daily Tele­graph bore out.

And the Boris I know has al­ways been ex­tremely Euroscep­tic. I first came across him when, as chan­cel­lor, I was ne­go­ti­at­ing our opt-out from the sin­gle currency and fend­ing off Euro­pean de­mands to har­monise our tax sys­tems.

I re­garded my­self as fight­ing hard for Bri­tain’s free­dom to make its own de­ci­sions on these mat­ters, and yet all the time Boris kept ag­gres­sively ques­tion­ing me and ac­cus­ing me of sell­ing out. I’ve no doubt where his prin­ci­ples lie.

He is right to point out how the na­ture of this project which we joined in 1973 was hid­den from us, de­nied and evaded, un­til fi­nally it be­came in­escapably clear that there re­ally was an at­tempt to cre­ate a coun­try called Europe.

He is right to worry that at­tempts to build a Euro­pean iden­tity risk un­der­min­ing our sense of al­le­giance to Bri­tain. He ably de­tails all the op­por­tu­ni­ties we will have af­ter Brexit. Most im­por­tantly, he is right to say that there is too much pes­simism around.

All of us need to keep our eyes on the sun­lit up­lands. I am sure the Prime Min­is­ter will agree with him and wel­come his in­ter­ven­tion. She should em­brace it, and not re­gard it – or al­low it – as a chal­lenge.

If Boris John­son re­motely had a lead­er­ship chal­lenge in mind, it would be a great mis­take

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