Boris, Brexit and a new battle for Britain
Could Boris Johnson be PM by Christmas? The former foreign secretary has compared Theresa May’s Brexit plan to a “suicide vest”, throwing the Tories into further turmoil at a crucial time.
“We have wrapped a suicide vest around our constitution — and handed the detonator to Brussels.”
With these explosive words in a column for The Mail on Sunday yesterday, former foreign secretary Boris Johnson launched yet another attack on Prime Minister Theresa May’s plan for Brexit.
The Chequers plan was announced back in July, and it would see the UK and the EU adopt a “common rulebook” for trade. However, critics say it would tie the UK to EU rules, preventing the country from negotiating its own trade deals. It is a much softer Brexit than May promised.
Johnson resigned in protest at the plan, along with the Brexit secretary David Davis. Yesterday was the second time he used a major newspaper to publicly criticise it in a single week. This, and the announcement of his divorce on Friday, has fuelled rumours that he is planning to launch a leadership bid in order to topple May and become prime minister himself.
Last week, Downing Street hit back at Johnson’s criticisms, saying he had “no new ideas” and that “serious leadership with a serious plan” is needed. Several Conservative ministers also spoke out against the extreme language he used yesterday, with one calling it “one of the most disgusting moments in modern British politics.”
The next few months could get even uglier. The final round of Brexit negotiations takes place in October. Before those talks, there is the important matter of party conference season. Many are predicting Johnson will use the opportunity to slam May’s leadership once again.
The majority of Tory members might agree with him. Polls show that most Conservatives want May to leave before the next general election.
For years, Tory membership has been on the decline. But it has recently started to rise, and there are now whispers that a “right-wing Momentum” — a reference to the group that propelled Jeremy Corbyn to the top of the Labour Party — is poised to pounce at the next leadership election to put Johnson into power.
Could he be prime minister by the end of the year?
Yes, say some. The Conservative right knows its time has come. For them, there is not long left to save Brexit from being a compromise too far. Johnson has huge appeal among Tory members and would fare better in an election than May — like President Donald Trump, his talent for controversy might even help him. This really could happen.
Johnson may be loved by some, but he is loathed by many more, reply others. Most of his parliamentary colleagues see him as an irresponsible chancer, and he cannot become leader without their support. May has clung on for months despite constant talk of a coup against her. Boris Johnson will never be prime minister.
- Will Boris Johnson ever become prime minister?
- Would you vote for him?
- Write down everything Boris Johnson has in common with Donald Trump. Then write down the differences.
- Who would win a general election between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn? Divide a piece of paper into two columns, and write down how electable both men are.
Some People Say...
“The scandal is not that we have failed, but that we have not even tried.”Boris Johnson on Brexit
What do you think?
Q & A
- What do we know?
- We can be almost certain that Johnson wants to become prime minister at some point. We know that he (along with dozens of other Conservative MPs) is furious over May’s Brexit plan. Johnson is one of the most famous politicians in the country — the only one to be known principally by his first name.
- What do we not know?
- Whether any of this will really happen. For May to leave, the Conservatives would need 48 names to trigger a vote of no confidence in the PM, thereby causing a leadership election. Johnson would then need the support of enough MPs to get to the final two, at which point Tory members will decide. That process could then take three months, by which time the final round of negotiations will be over.
- The plan was formed at Chequers, the prime minister’s country house. It would also officially end the European Court of Justice’s (ECJ) jurisdiction in the UK, although the ECJ would still be “the interpreter of EU rules” that the UK agrees to stick to.
- Boris Johnson has been married to lawyer Marina Wheeler for 25 years. There have been reports of numerous affairs during that time. Yesterday, The Sunday Times published details in a “dirty dossier” originally written by Theresa May’s staff during the 2016 Tory leadership election. Downing Street denied leaking it.
- Party conference season
- The Labour Party Conference will be held in Liverpool from September 23-26. The Conservative Party Conference will be in Birmingham from September 30 to October 3.
- On the decline
- The Conservative Party has only 124,000 members, compared with Labour’s 540,000.
- Right-wing Momentum
- Two weeks ago, Arron Banks, UKIP’s most influential donor, was barred from becoming a member of the Conservative Party. He has been at the forefront of plans to infiltrate the party with former UKIP voters.