Boris intervention is welcome but should not form a leadership bid
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