Boris Johnson's conviction to the Brexiteer cause was questioned by many back in 2016, who tied his high-profile endorsement of the Leave campaign to personal ambition. You may remember the leaked thought piece on why the UK should remain in the EU, which he wrote off as a “semi-parodic” method of solidifying his own argument.
More recently, Johnson has embarked on a fresh wave of disruption, not merely by reciting colonial poems on visits abroad, but by drip-feeding comment that conflicts with the Cabinet line. It’s a campaign that seems to fit firmly with any unmet prime ministerial motivations.
First there was the pre-Florence article in the Daily Telegraph where he set out his own vision for post-Brexit Britain and reiterated the widely criticised £350m to the NHS, side of a bus, figure. That was promptly shot down by the head of the UK Statistics Authority, who labelled it a “clear misuse” of data. Was this to herald an early departure or induce a dismissal so he could face Theresa May as a viable alternative at the Tory party conference? It remains unclear, but the mutterings continued.
He endorsed a hard Brexit think tank and potentially breached ministerial code by letting them launch themselves on Foreign Office premises. In an interview with The Sun, he identified four “red lines” for Britain in the Brexit negotiations that went beyond the carefully worded conditions the Prime Minister had set out, notably saying that the transition period should not last “a second more” than two years. As the Conservative conference got underway in Manchester on Sunday he stole the limelight once again from Theresa May’s big tuition fee’s freeze announcement by saying he expected her to be driven from Downing Street within the year.
As was to be expected, the Prime Minister faced a steady stream of “straightforward questions” from Andrew Marr on his Sunday morning show last weekend, which, to his dismay, she continued to dodge. This was a habit, he noted, that had helped lose her the General Election. His direct “is Boris unsackable?” query did not prompt a no from the Prime Minister, who continued to object to the suggestion that her Cabinet were “fighting like rats in a sack” and, with a strained laugh, shifted the discussion from jobs in the Cabinet to jobs in the country.
Others have taken a firmer stance. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, said that “everybody is sackable”, passing Boris’ numerous faux pas’ off as “rhetorical flourish”. Ruth Davidson admitted she would have sacked him, Ken Clarke said he should be gone by now, and #sackboris has gathered speed on Twitter.
Yesterday, the Prime Minister brushed it off. She said she didn’t want “yes men” in her Cabinet and that “strong leadership is about having a diverse range of voices”. Boris may have made the most fuss with his rebellion but he is not the only one. It’s lucky Mrs May is looking for diverse voices because Philip Hammond, David Davis and Amber Rudd have all shown flickers of dissent over the last fortnight. Perhaps the most entertaining show of disloyalty came from Sajid Javid. Asked by an interviewer if Mrs May should lead the Tories into the next election, he responded “I think we’re out of time”, got up and left.
Today, Theresa May called for unity within her party - almost certainly directed at her colleagues. And perhaps she'll get what she needs from some. The Chancellor was certainly kind enough to provide her with a cough sweet when he saw his boss was struggling with her speech. Johnson may continue to refuse to kowtow though, requiring Amber Rudd's encouragement to applaud. Allegedly, he even ensured a P45 was handed to her.
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