Life and times

Tele­graph po­lit­i­cal ed­i­tor Gordon Rayner

The Daily Telegraph - Telegraph Magazine - - News -

‘YES, BORIS JOHN­SON is still For­eign Sec­re­tary,’ says a weary Downing Street spokesman in a fa­mil­iar ‘Why are you wast­ing my time with such stupid ques­tions?’ tone. But in the few min­utes it takes me to walk back from Num­ber 10 to my desk in Par­lia­ment, Boris John­son will cease to be For­eign Sec­re­tary, prov­ing that in pol­i­tics, there’s no such thing as a stupid ques­tion.

This was early July – the start of two of the busiest and most un­set­tling weeks of the year, if not my ca­reer, in Par­lia­ment – and the end of a brief­ing con­vened to ex­plain the de­tails of the Govern­ment’s Brexit White Pa­per. But af­ter David Davis’s late-night res­ig­na­tion as Brexit Sec­re­tary hours be­fore, and with spec­u­la­tion mount­ing that Mr John­son would soon fol­low, lis­ten­ing to half an hour of spin on the fa­cil­i­tated cus­toms ar­range­ment seemed like time I didn’t have.

When you en­ter Num­ber 10 (which re­ally does in­volve walk­ing up and knock­ing on that fa­mous front door), mo­biles are con­fis­cated, leav­ing you cut off from the world. It’s enough to turn a po­lit­i­cal jour­nal­ist into a bag of nerves, and also helps to ex­plain why the Boris ques­tion was en­tirely rea­son­able: none of us could be sure of the an­swer.

Mo­ments af­ter I got back to my desk, an email marked ‘State­ment [OF­FI­CIAL]’ ar­rived from Downing Street an­nounc­ing Mr John­son’s res­ig­na­tion – sent by the same per­son who had ear­lier de­nied he had gone. It was only Mon­day af­ter­noon, but it felt as if a week had flashed by, such was the pace of events. And we still had the small mat­ter of Don­ald Trump to come...

FAST FOR­WARD TO FRI­DAY, and af­ter a few more res­ig­na­tions, an ex­plo­sive Nato sum­mit in Brus­sels and Trump’s now in­fa­mous in­ter­view in The Sun, in which he de­nounced Mrs May’s Brexit plan, I found my­self wait­ing on a pave­ment in cen­tral Lon­don at 5.30am for the me­dia trans­port to Che­quers.

Mrs May’s press con­fer­ence with Mr Trump was sched­uled for 1.40pm, but US se­cu­rity de­mands are such that re­porters were or­dered to ren­dezvous at 6am to be searched ahead of the 40-mile coach trip to Buck­ing­hamshire.

Trump’s ar­rival there, in a thud­ding for­ma­tion of five he­li­copters, was rather more im­pres­sive than ours, and felt like an in­va­sion rather than a visit. To para­phrase the Euroscep­tics, Che­quers had briefly be­come a vas­sal state of Amer­ica.

We were even­tu­ally ush­ered on to the lawn for the press con­fer­ence. And then, there he was. The Don­ald. Hold­ing Theresa May’s hand (is that now their trade­mark?) as they walked down the steps to the dais be­fore com­menc­ing a press con­fer­ence that did not dis­ap­point.

Watch­ing Trump when May was speak­ing, I was struck by just how much of a car­i­ca­ture he is. Sur­vey­ing the scene with that chin-up pose bor­rowed from Mus­solini, I couldn’t help won­der­ing if he was in­vol­un­tar­ily do­ing an im­pres­sion of Alec Bald­win do­ing an im­pres­sion of him. And his hands, dis­ap­point­ingly, weren’t tiny at all.

ON THE FI­NAL Wed­nes­day be­fore Par­lia­ment’s sum­mer re­cess, May en­dured a Brexit-fu­elled af­ter­noon from hell. Within six hours, she faced Prime Min­is­ter’s Ques­tions, a marathon grilling by an all-party com­mit­tee, a show­down with her back­benchers at the 1922 Com­mit­tee, and Boris John­son’s res­ig­na­tion speech. What bet­ter way to end the day than a drinks re­cep­tion at Num­ber 10?

It’s hard to know who felt more un­com­fort­able – the jour­nal­ists or Mrs May. Small talk is not ex­actly her favourite pas­time. Mov­ing be­tween guests, she straight-bat­ted all com­ers like her hero Ge­of­frey Boy­cott, leav­ing us all star­ing at the ground awk­wardly. I won­der if Trump had the same ex­pe­ri­ence?

Trump’s ar­rival, in a thud­ding for­ma­tion of he­li­copters, felt like an in­va­sion rather than a visit

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