A boozy bar­be­cue and how sham­bolic BoJo was hit for six

Scottish Daily Mail - - Brexit: The Fall­out - An­drew Pierce re­port­ing

Ex­ulTanT from their Brexit vic­tory and ready to plan a strat­egy to im­ple­ment the wishes of vot­ers to be­gin with­drawal from the Eu, Michael Gove and Boris John­son ar­ranged to meet at the lat­ter’s week­end home in Ox­ford­shire on Sun­day.

al­though they had worked hand-in-glove to­gether dur­ing the long weeks of the ref­er­en­dum cam­paign, it must be said that Gove and John­son had never been big bud­dies.

But they had forged a good work­ing re­la­tion­ship as they toured the coun­try on their Brexit bat­tle-bus. They re­spected each other’s in­di­vid­ual skills. as, a Gove sup­porter ex­plained: ‘Michael knows they al­most cer­tainly would not have won with­out Boris.’

But even be­fore Gove (and his two aides) ar­rived at John­son’s house, he was be­gin­ning to worry about whether the for­mer lon­don mayor was putting enough ef­fort into the mam­moth chal­lenge they faced.

There was barely con­cealed ir­ri­ta­tion that in­stead of get­ting stuck into the de­tail of plan­ning a strat­egy, John­son had spent time on Satur­day play­ing in a cricket match be­tween a team made up of his fam­ily and an Earl Spencer’s XI at al­thorp House.

Just a day af­ter ster­ling had crashed and shares tum­bled, a chillax­ing John­son was pos­tur­ing in his cricket whites.

This was not the states­man­like im­age that Gove and his ad­vis­ers wanted to con­vey to the ma­jor­ity of Re­main-back­ing Tory MPs who were poleaxed by last Thurs­day’s re­sult and who needed to be con­vinced that the coun­try was safe in the hands of John­son or any other re­place­ment for David Cameron.

So it was that, when Gove ar­rived at John­son’s house, a bar­be­cue was un­der­way for Boris and his po­lit­i­cal sup­port­ers.

among the ban­ter, there was light-hearted teas­ing over whether Gove would change his mind and run for the lead­er­ship him­self. The John­sonites also joked about Gove’s re­mark, ear­lier in the month, when he said: ‘The one thing I can tell you is there are lots of tal­ented peo­ple who could be Prime Min­is­ter af­ter David Cameron, but count me out.’

Gove and his aides found it a strug­gle to get John­son’s team’s at­ten­tion to dis­cuss strat­egy. But they man­aged to agree that Gove would chair Boris’s lead­er­ship cam­paign and Sir lyn­ton Crosby, the aus­tralian who mas­ter­minded his two lon­don May­oral vic­to­ries and Cameron’s un­ex­pected Gen­eral Elec­tion suc­cess last year, would do the day-to-day plan­ning.

But it was only af­ter Gove re­turned to lon­don, his aides re­ally be­gan to have nag­ging doubts. above all, was Boris up to the job? Did he have suf­fi­cient fo­cus and judg­ment?

The trou­ble was the boozy bar­be­cue was typ­i­cally sham­bolic of a Boris event and, I’m told: ‘The meet­ing was dis­or­gan­ised and illd­is­ci­plined. There was no struc­ture. The af­ter­noon had been a bit of a wasted jour­ney.’ De­spite this Gove was de­ter­mined to per­sist in try­ing to put steel in their joint cam­paign.

BuT sig­nif­i­cantly, de­spite rul­ing out run­ning to be leader him­self, Gove had se­cretly made back-up plans. Be­fore the ref­er­en­dum cam­paign, he’d had sev­eral din­ners with his long-time ally lord nash, a Ju­nior Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter, and multi-mil­lion­aire Tory donor. nash was the founder of the ed­u­ca­tion char­ity Fu­ture, which spon­sors academy schools, and would have spear­headed any pos­si­ble Gove lead­er­ship bid.

These meet­ings be­gan af­ter Gove was sacked by Cameron as Ed­u­ca­tion Sec­re­tary and made Chief Whip. The de­mo­tion, as un­ex­pected as it was bru­tal, hurt Gove ter­ri­bly. It also made him re­alise he ought to do more to pro­tect his own skin.

al­though he was en­cour­aged that some MPs had told him they saw him as a po­ten­tial fu­ture Tory leader, Gove’s sup­port­ers in­sist that he put aside any per­sonal am­bi­tion.

But over the 72 hours fol­low­ing his un­sat­is­fac­tory Ox­ford­shire meet­ing with John­son, doubts hard­ened in the minds of Gove and his team. ‘Boris was just so cav­a­lier,’ said one. ‘We couldn’t pin him down on de­tails.’

The first se­ri­ous dis­agree­ment came with the pub­li­ca­tion of John­son’s weekly col­umn in The Daily Tele­graph on Mon­day.

It was a lazy, un­fo­cused and clumsy ar­ti­cle which seemed to start to re­nege on the leave

cam­paign’s pledges to curb im­mi­gra­tion. Apart from Leave vot­ers fear­ing that Boris was back-slid­ing, there was a mini-row be­tween the two Tories over how much ad­vance no­tice Gove had been given of the col­umn’s con­tents.

John­son’s team in­sist that Gove had not only read the ar­ti­cle in Ox­ford­shire the day be­fore pub­li­ca­tion, but had ‘sub-edited it’. A John­son aide said: ‘There can be no grounds for com­plaint from Gove.’

For their part, Gove’s team claim he saw the piece at the very last minute and had time to make only ‘mi­nor changes’.

The un­ease in Team Gove in­creased as they tried to win the sup­port of other Tory MPs. I’m told that they found a groundswell of opin­ion — in West­min­ster and among the wider Con­ser­va­tive grass­roots — that held that Gove should stand as leader.

What­ever the truth, Team Boris say that at no time did they get any inkling that Gove was be­com­ing un­happy with John­son.

The fi­nal straw came, it seems, on Wed­nes­day af­ter Gove and John­son had a pri­vate meet­ing with An­drea Lead­som, the En­ergy Min­is­ter and for­mer City big­wig, who was one of the most im­pres­sive Leave ad­vo­cates.

Al­though, it was well-known that she was con­sid­er­ing run­ning for the lead­er­ship, she set out her de­mands for back­ing John­son.

If John­son be­came PM, she wanted to be Chan­cel­lor or Deputy Prime Min­is­ter, in charge of the ne­go­ti­a­tions with Brus­sels to ex­tract Britain from the EU.

The two men duly agreed they’d give her one of the two jobs. Told by phone it was a deal, Lead­som re­quested the pledge in writ­ing.

John­son agreed he would do that and said he would also make a pub­lic state­ment that evening to say: ‘I am de­lighted to be joined by Michael Gove and An­drea Lead­som at my launch to­mor­row.’

In the mean­time, how­ever, there was an un­ex­pected devel­op­ment. Sky News re­ported that an email sent to Gove and his team by his wife Sarah Vine (a Mail colum­nist) had been in­ad­ver­tently sent to the wrong re­cip­i­ent. It con­tained the dev­as­tat­ing sug­ges­tion that Boris John­son could not be trusted.

She warned her hus­band about the risks of back­ing him with­out ‘spe­cific guar­an­tees on im­mi­gra­tion con­trols.’ Al­though deeply em­bar­rass­ing — and seized on by crit­ics of the Tories — the mat­ter was swiftly smoothed over with John­son’s of­fice.

On Wed­nes­day evening, Gove at­tended the Con­ser­va­tive Party sum­mer party at the Hurling­ham Club in Ful­ham which was at­tended by Cameron and other Cabi­net min­is­ters.

John­son went to an­other so­cial gath­er­ing, in West­min­ster, where he was ex­pected to give that writ­ten job guar­an­tee to An­drea Lead­som. How­ever, he had ap­par­ently left the let­ter in his Com­mons of­fice.

Com­pound­ing this bro­ken prom­ise, the dead­line passed when Boris said he would make pub­lic his pledge to Lead­som.

Un­der­stand­ably, Lead­som felt ‘snubbed’ and de­cided she was be­ing ‘strung along’. In a fit of pique, she then lodged her own nom­i­na­tion pa­pers for the Tory lead­er­ship.

A few miles across Lon­don at the Tory sum­mer party, Gove was be­ing urged by some guests to break with Boris and stand as leader. While there, he got word about what had hap­pened with re­gard to An­drea Lead­som.

Gove left the club be­fore 11pm and went to a gath­er­ing in Par­lia­ment. There, in a much­needed pub­lic dis­play of unity, he was seen with his arm around Boris.

Then, Gove trav­elled home. But his mind was spin­ning with con­tra­dic­tory thoughts. Was Boris be­com­ing a se­ri­ous a li­a­bil­ity? Should he stand him­self?

AL­THOUGH his al­lies were still busy lob­by­ing MPs on be­half of Team Boris, af­ter mid­night, he sum­moned his key aides to his West Lon­don home to go through the is­sues that were wor­ry­ing him. First, there was John­son’s shabby treat­ment of An­drea Lead­som. Then there was the fact that by 10pm that night John­son had writ­ten only 400 words of his 3,000-word launch speech that was due to be de­liv­ered the fol­low­ing morn­ing and that Gove was sup­posed to have read and ap­proved.

‘It was an­other sign of the slap­dash ap­proach to the cam­paign,’ said a Gove friend. ‘We couldn’t go on like this.’

There was gen­eral agree­ment that Gove should break from Boris. ‘It all fell apart be­cause of Boris’s in­com­pe­tence,’ I was told. Gove was re­luc­tant to tell John­son un­til the morn­ing.

In any case, his pri­or­ity was to scram­ble his own lead­er­ship an­nounce­ment plans.

Af­ter leav­ing home for West­min­ster very early yes­ter­day morn­ing, Gove phoned Team Boris cam­paign boss Lyn­ton Crosby to break the news that he would no longer back John­son and was go­ing to run him­self. Both were ap­par­ently cour­te­ous to each other.

Gove’s team say he re­peat­edly tried to phone John­son but couldn’t raise him. John­son’s peo­ple deny any at­tempt was made. One said: ‘Gove never called! He didn’t have the courage. We only learnt of his act of treach­ery from Lyn­ton [Crosby].’

Fur­ther­more, John­son’s aides were con­temp­tu­ous of Gove’s be­hav­iour — say­ing he used his con­cern about the way An­drea Lead­som had been treated as an ex­cuse and that his ac­tions were driven by a naked am­bi­tion to be­come Prime Min­is­ter.

Team Boris have since de­scribed the saga as the ‘cuckoo in the nest plot’ — im­ply­ing that Gove was a like a cuckoo who used the nest of an­other bird (Boris) for its own self­ish pur­poses.

They are bit­terly con­vinced that Gove al­ways in­tended to knife John­son at the last minute and run as leader in his own right.

But they didn’t ex­pect him to plunge the knife in from the front. ‘It’s treach­ery with a cap­i­tal T,’ de­clared one.

Not so says Team Gove. They de­nied any con­spir­acy. One says: ‘We just knew we could no longer ig­nore what we all knew in our hearts — that Boris just couldn’t hack it.’

Ul­ti­mately, his­tory will de­cide which of the two men was most cul­pa­ble. It will also tell whether both men’s sim­mer­ing ri­valry will mean that nei­ther won the crown that they both so craved.

Howzat! Boris John­son played cricket the day af­ter the ref­er­en­dum re­sult

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