May slaps down ‘in­ap­pro­pri­ate’ Bojo over sui­cide he seeks new woman (as run­ning mate*)


The Irish Mail on Sunday - - NEWS - By GLEN OWEN

BRI­TISH Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May has bro­ken her si­lence on the spec­u­la­tion swirling around Boris John­son’s po­lit­i­cal am­bi­tions – by slap­ping down the for­mer for­eign sec­re­tary for his blis­ter­ing at­tack on her Che­quers agree­ment.

Mrs May uses a BBC in­ter­view to condemn Mr John­son for his re­marks in last week’s Mail on Sun­day, when he likened her Brexit plan to a ‘sui­cide vest around the Bri­tish con­sti­tu­tion’.

She im­plies that Mr John­son’s com­ments, which trig­gered a po­lit­i­cal storm in the UK, showed he was un­fit for the high­est of­fice.

‘I have to say that that choice of lan­guage is com­pletely in­ap­pro­pri­ate,’ she says.

‘I was Home Sec­re­tary for six years and as Prime Min­is­ter for two years now, I think us­ing lan­guage like that was not right and it’s not lan­guage I would have used.’

She also ex­presses her frus­tra­tion at the plot­ting against her on the Tory back­benches. Asked if she would re­as­sure her party that she is not de­ter­mined to go ‘on and on’ as leader, she replies: ‘I get a lit­tle bit ir­ri­tated but this de­bate is not about my fu­ture. This de­bate is about the fu­ture of the peo­ple of the UK and the fu­ture of the United King­dom.’

In the in­ter­view, to be broad­cast to­mor­row night, Mrs May is asked by for­mer BBC po­lit­i­cal editor Nick Robin­son whether she is still the ‘bloody dif­fi­cult woman’ re­ferred to by for­mer Con­ser­va­tive chan­cel­lor Ken Clarke.

She replies that the ‘bloody dif­fi­cult woman’ is ‘still there’, but ‘there’s a dif­fer­ence be­tween those who think you can only be bloody dif­fi­cult in pub­lic, and those who think ac­tu­ally you bide your time, and you’re bloody dif­fi­cult when the time is right – and when it re­ally mat­ters’.

Mrs May’s re­marks come af­ter a week in which Tory MP mem­bers of the Brex­i­teer Euro­pean Re­search Group openly dis­cussed re­mov­ing Mrs May in or­der to kill off her Che­quers plan, which would leave the UK tied to many Euro­pean Union rules in­def­i­nitely.

The un­cer­tainty over Mrs May’s fu­ture as she nears the crunch point of the Brexit ne­go­ti­a­tions has led to in­ten­sive jostling be­hind the scenes as the main con­tenders ‘wargame’ pos­si­ble out­comes.

‘Ev­ery­one and his grand­mother is plan­ning to run,’ a Tory source said com­par­ing it

Al­lies of Mr John­son – who claimed last night that his cri­tique of Mrs May’s plan was ‘not about chang­ing Prime Min­is­ter, it’s about chuck­ing Che­quers’ – are al­ready siz­ing up po­ten­tial run­ning mates, with fast-ris­ing star Penny Mor­daunt at the top of their wish­list.

The in­ter­na­tional de­vel­op­ment sec­re­tary and equal­i­ties min­is­ter, who has been tipped to run for the lead­er­ship in her own right, is a pro-Brexit navy re­servist who came to pub­lic promi­nence in the ITV div­ing show Splash!, in which she painfully belly-flopped in front of mil­lions of view­ers.

Shortly af­ter­wards, she at­tracted fur­ther at­ten­tion by de­liv­er­ing a speech in the House of Com­mons on the wel­fare of poul­try, which she ad­mit­ted had been made with the sole pur­pose of ut­ter­ing the word ‘cock’ in or­der to win a dare.

Mr John­son’s re­cent mar­riage split, amid spec­u­la­tion about his re­la­tion­ship with Tory aide Car­rie Sy­monds, has con­vinced some al­lies that a joint ticket with a pop­u­lar fe­male politi­cian is the best way to neu­tralise the po­lit­i­cal dam­age.

An­other run­ning mate be­ing con­sid­ered by the John­son camp is for­mer home sec­re­tary Am­ber Rudd, who has al­ready worked closely with Lyn­ton Crosby – the Aus­tralian elec­tion strate­gist who is pro­fes­sion­ally and per­son­ally close to Mr John­son – over the bat­tle to hang on to her ul­tra­marginal Hast­ings con­stituency.

At the same time, friends of Mr John­son’s main ri­val for the lead­er­ship, home sec­re­tary Sa­jid Javid, are un­der­stood to have made over­tures to chief sec­re­tary to the trea­sury Liz Truss about stand­ing on a joint ticket with him if Mrs May is forced to re­sign.

Ms Truss, who is also ex­pected to put her name for­ward in any con­test, has re­cently un­der­gone a ‘wardrobe makeover’ ahead of her ex­pected tilt at the lead­er­ship, ditch­ing dowdy items in favour of more al­lur­ing out­fits.

Mr John­son is ex­pected to up­stage Mrs May at the Tory Party con­fer­ence next month when he speaks at a ‘chuck Che­quers’ rally the day be­fore her key­note speech.

But some al­lies say they fear that Down­ing Street will try to use ‘dirty tricks’ to take the shine off his ap­pear­ance – such as re­leas­ing the Tory Party’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion into his mock­ing com­ments in a news­pa­per ar­ti­cle about burkas on the same day as the rally, in or­der to neu­tralise his triumph.

Mrs May hopes to make ma­jor progress on Brexit at a key sum­mit this week when the lead­ers of all 28 EU coun­tries meet in the Aus­trian city of Salzburg to dis­cuss how they could reach a deal.

Down­ing Street hopes that the sum­mit will sig­nal that EU ne­go­tia­tors are pre­par­ing to di­lute their de­mands for fur­ther con­ces­sions on Che­quers in or­der to pro­tect Mrs May from a putsch.

How­ever, sources close to the ne­go­ti­at­ing teams warned that the most Theresa May could ex­pect were ‘pos­i­tive words’ and a ‘fail­ure to kill off Che­quers al­to­gether’.

Mean­while, EU lead­ers will dis­cuss when they meet in Aus­tria next week whether to hold a spe­cial sum­mit on Brexit in Novem­ber.

The EU is con­tin­u­ing con­tin­gency prepa­ra­tions in the event there is no deal be­fore Bri­tain leaves next March.

Diplo­mats and EU of­fi­cials say that gov­ern­ments have been dis­cussing hold­ing a spe­cial Brexit sum­mit in Brus­sels in mid Novem­ber on the as­sump­tion that a reg­u­lar meet­ing on Oc­to­ber 18 will be

‘Lan­guage like that is not right. I would not have used it’ Joint ticket may help to ease mar­riage fall­out

too early to ap­prove a po­ten­tial deal with Bri­tain on a with­drawal treaty.

Fur­ther dis­cus­sion on a Novem­ber meet­ing will take place when heads of state and govern­ment meet in Salzburg next Wed­nes­day and Thurs­day.

Ire­land is still the ma­jor ob­sta­cle to a suc­cess­ful with­drawal agree­ment. ‘The only deal-breaker is Ire­land,’ an of­fi­cial said.

If a fu­ture trade re­la­tion­ship, or a tech­no­log­i­cal means of ob­tain­ing a fric­tion­less border fails to guar­an­tee the free move­ment across the border, the back­stop means that North­ern Ire­land to all in­tents and pur­poses re­mains in the sin­gle mar­ket and cus­toms union.

The Bri­tish be­lieve the back­stop stand-off can be re­solved through a tem­po­rary cus­toms ar­range­ment, which would keep the UK as a whole in­side the cus­toms union un­til the fu­ture trade agree­ment, or Che­quers plan, takes over.

BBC Panorama: In­side No 10: Deal or No Deal? airs to­mor­row at 8.30pm on BBC1

*That’ll be Penny Mor­daunt, the ar­dent Brex­i­teer who made a big Splash on TV

PO­LIT­I­CAL STORM: How the MoS re­vealed John­son’s re­marks last week

DreaM TeaM? Al­lies have urged Boris John­son to chal­lenge Mrs May’s lead­er­ship on a joint ticket with Penny Mor­daunt

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