A LOY­AL­IST WHOSE RES­IG­NA­TION LEFT FRIENDS IN SHOCK

Daily Mail - - News - An­drew Pierce re­port­ing

JO JOHN­SON, mod­est, ret­i­cent and some­thing of a loner, has long been re­garded by West­min­ster watch­ers as a paler ver­sion of his flam­boy­ant older brother Boris. He’s the Bobby Ewing to Boris’s ‘charis­matic, naughty JR in Dal­las’, ac­cord­ing to one po­lit­i­cal com­men­ta­tor.

There was, how­ever, noth­ing pale about the full-blooded as­sault Jo launched on the Prime Min­is­ter yes­ter­day as he bla­tantly bor­rowed from his si­b­ling’s play­book.

Fun­da­men­tally a loy­al­ist and a moder­ate, his res­ig­na­tion state­ment has shocked even his clos­est friends.

One of Jo’s most wound­ing charges against Theresa May was that her Brexit pro­pos­als ‘present the na­tion with a choice be­tween two deeply unattrac­tive out­comes, vas­salage and chaos’. It was, he con­tin­ued, ‘a fail­ure of Bri­tish state­craft on a scale un­seen since the Suez cri­sis’. Sound fa­mil­iar?

Less than a month ago, Boris was urg­ing the PM to make a tougher stand on the North­ern Ire­land ‘back­stop’ is­sue, say­ing: ‘If we let this go it will be the great­est na­tional hu­mil­i­a­tion since Suez.’

Sim­i­larly, last year Boris said that if Bri­tain left but re­mained in close con­tin­ued align­ment with EU rules, ‘peo­ple would ask “what is the point of what you have achieved?” be­cause we would have gone from a mem­ber state to a vas­sal state’. The sim­i­lar­i­ties in their lan­guage are all the more ex­tra­or­di­nary given that the broth­ers are firmly en­trenched on op­po­site sides of the Brexit de­bate.

Jo John­son, 46, who stood down as trans­port min­is­ter, is the paid-up mem­ber of the Michael He­sel­tine Europhile wing of the Tory party who wants to kill Brexit, hence his call for a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum.

Boris, 54, who quit the Cab­i­net in July over the PM’s Che­quers pro­pos­als, is the stan­dard bearer of the hardline Brex­i­teers who wants to make the clean­est pos­si­ble break from Brus­sels.

Now, they are united in a com­mon cause on the back benches be­cause, as their sis­ter, jour­nal­ist Rachel John­son, said last night, ‘nei­ther of them want the Brexit on of­fer’.

Boris lost no time tweet­ing his sup­port yes­ter­day, but the ques­tion is: will they put the fierce John­son com­pet­i­tive­ness and the per­sonal am­bi­tion they both har­bour to one side to work to­gether, and what will it mean for Mrs May if they do? They have al­ways been close de­spite a child­hood that, ac­cord­ing to Boris’s bi­og­ra­pher An­drew Gim­son, was one of ‘cut-throat meal-time quizzes, fear­some ping-pong matches, height, weight and blon­de­ness con­tests’.

TO­many – and not least him­self – it has al­ways seemed that it was Boris’s destiny to one day move into Down­ing Street. But it was Jo, elected as the MP for Or­p­ing­ton in 2010 af­ter a ca­reer as a jour­nal­ist, who be­came the first John­son to take up res­i­dence in No 10 as head of the Down­ing Street Pol­icy Unit. Boris had to make do with City Hall as Mayor of Lon­don.

Jo had been the sur­prise choice of David Cameron to head the unit in 2013 and John­son ‘Mi­nor’, as he was known af­ter fol­low­ing in Boris’s foot­steps at Eton, rev­elled in get­ting one over his big brother. It wasn’t the first time Boris had been left eye­ing Jo a lit­tle jeal­ously. He had grad­u­ated from Ox­ford with a first-class de­gree in mod­ern his­tory, while Boris had only man­aged a 2:1 in clas­sics. Jo then ac­quired two fur­ther de­grees from Euro­pean uni­ver­si­ties.

It didn’t help when he was work­ing on the 2015 Tory man­i­festo. The first draft was thrown back at him as ‘use­less’. But he per­se­vered and tough­ened up, and af­ter the Tory elec­tion vic­tory, he was given the post of min­is­ter for uni­ver­si­ties and sci­ence.

To­day he is re­garded as an im­por­tant mem­ber of the Re­mainer clan in the Tory par­lia­men­tary party known as the ‘Sen­si­bles’, led by for­mer deputy PM Damian Green, Chan­cel­lor Philip Ham­mond, for­mer home sec­re­tary Am­ber Rudd and Ruth David­son, leader of the Scot­tish Tories.

Boris’s res­ig­na­tion was seen by most MPs for what it was: the nakedly am­bi­tious for­mer for­eign sec­re­tary lim­ber­ing up for a chal­lenge to Mrs May over what he de­scribes as her ‘de­ranged’ Che­quers plan.

But Jo’s de­ci­sion to go is not about per­sonal am­bi­tion, ac­cord­ing to his friends, but be­cause he sees a chance to scup­per Brexit. He has also been un­happy as trans­port min­is­ter, hav­ing been moved side­ways in the last reshuf­fle.

Rachel John­son, an ar­dent Re­mainer, said last night she did not an­tic­i­pate any ten­sion in the fam­ily and would be play­ing ten­nis against Jo this morn­ing as usual.

Would she let him win in recog­ni­tion of his prin­ci­pled de­ci­sion to quit? ‘ No,’ she replied. ‘He al­ways beats me any­way.’ Both broth­ers would con­tinue to ‘fight their cor­ners’, she added.

If Boris and Jo choose to forge a new al­liance from the Left and Right of the party in any lead­er­ship bat­tle, they will be a for­mi­da­ble duo. And Mrs May knows it.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.