Conservative party

Team May hoped to fire Boris. That’s why he’s decided to take the initiative

BY Iain Martin | tweet iainmartin1   /  15 September 2017

The Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, faced the looming prospect of the sack just a few weeks ago. His spell at the FCO has not gone well, and it was acknowledged by senior Tories, even former dedicated supporters, that his moment had passed and his time was up. Blustering Boris was in the departure lounge, and his record has been trashed by commentators for months. Team May barely hid it. Boris was sliding into irrelevance.

This weekend, Boris has after noting all this decided to take the initiative, which is rather bold. He has penned 4,000 words (too long!) for the Telegraph mapping out his “vision of Brexit” – which is being interpreted as a leadership challenge against May, although it looks more like an attempt to remind leavers he was one of the key people who delivered Brexit, while reminding May that she still takes a risk if she fires him in the reshuffle which is anticipated.

What does Boris say in the piece? Not very much. It would be tremendous to give the NHS £350m a week extra after Brexit, it seems. And after the transition period, the UK really must leave properly and be generally tremendous. I think – think – that is anyway where the government is getting to in terms of laying out a proposed sequencing and way to a deal on Brexit, but we’ll see.

Nonetheless, the very act of making this move in this way, just ahead of conference season, is dramatic stuff. There’s even an accompanying high Tory Charles Moore op-ed in the Telegraph asking whether now might be the time for new leadership under Boris.

Er… no, will be the response from many voters, I suspect. Isn’t the national situation delicate enough as it is without Boris taking over?

As Ruth Davidson, the Scottish Tory leader, pointed out in a striking tweet, the timing is also very odd. She does not care for Johnson, because she regards him as a buffoonish monstrosity who would wreck the Tory party’s chances of rebuilding its appeal outside the home counties. Indeed, today was dominated by a terror attack and the raising of the threat level. To write this piece now and to let it run the day after a terror attack is a strange call by Boris. There will be quite a bit of anti-Boris fury, as a result.

But I suspect that he is also trying to influence the content of the Prime Minister’s pivotal speech in Florence next week, which is expected to be an attempt to break the impasse in the Brexit talks. That’ll be the subject of my weekly newsletter for Reaction subscribers, when I finally get round to writing it because there’s an amusing glam rock special on BBC FOUR that I got too caught up in watching after eating fish and chips. Good night.


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