Disingenuous, disloyal and desperate
Published by The Mail on Sunday (17th September, 2017)
London had a lucky escape on Friday. But still there were 29 people injured in a terror attack on a Tube train and a fanatical bomber on the loose, leading the Prime Minister to put the nation on highest alert.
As security forces searched the country, the Foreign Secretary was focused on something closer to home. Boris Johnson was publishing a 4,000-word plea for the hardest possible Brexit.
This act of sabotage against fellow Ministers was jaw-dropping on so many levels – even for a politician for whom ambition is like a flesh-eating disease coursing through his body.
For a start there was the timing, in the midst of a terror hunt. It was bad enough to see the US President tweeting claims that ‘loser terrorists’ were ‘in the sights of Scotland Yard’.
Far worse to see Boris, another self-absorbed nationalist desperate to lead his country but also a senior Cabinet Minister, choosing this moment to stake out his leadership stance in the newspaper that for so long paid his wages.
Behind the bonhomie lurks a character who cares only about putting Boris first, for all his empty Trumpian words about making Britain great again.
Clearly his magnum opus for the Daily Telegraph was a well-calibrated operation, given supportive columns elsewhere in the newspaper and allies defending him instantly in the media.
It was also an unprecedented challenge from a serving Foreign Secretary to the Prime Minister, coming just days before Theresa May delivers a pivotal speech on Brexit and a couple of weeks before a critical Tory Party Conference.
This was an ultimatum – and it shows the stunning weakness of Mrs May after her Election debacle that she is unable to sack a Minister gone so rogue.
Then there is the content of his brazen positioning statement, a mix of half-truths and falsehoods wrapped in the Union Flag and flung in the face of colleagues as they grapple with Britain’s biggest conundrum since the Second World War.
Boris even revives the ridiculed claim that Brexit means the NHS will get a £350 million-a-week boost. He insists Britain should not make any post-Brexit payments to the EU – yet my sources say the only issue under discussion as realism descends around the Cabinet table is how much Britain should give after departure.
Boris also says ongoing membership of the Single Market and Customs Union would make a ‘complete mockery’ of last year’s vote.
Strangely, he used to say things like: ‘I’m in favour of the single market. I want us to be able to trade with our European friends and partners.’ But then Boris has never shown consistency in his views when they clash with his ambitions.
His Brexit manifesto – which reads like the speech he was rightly barred from giving by Downing Street – is disingenuous from start to finish.
Here are two points, taken at random. He claims housing prices in London are pushed up by foreign buyers, yet it is pointless to tax them since EU citizens cannot legally be classed as foreign.
Surely the former Mayor of London knows the majority of foreign buyers come from south-eastern Asian countries? Mind you, Boris did bafflingly little to alleviate the housing crisis when overseeing the capital.
He also suggests Britain could accelerate work on gene therapy ‘freed from EU regimes’. Yet on Thursday I was at a dinner with leading researchers into epilepsy at the forefront of such advances – and they said the exact opposite.
These scientists, making major advances on a life-threatening neurological condition that afflicts my daughter, spoke of their fears over losing both EU colleagues and funding – of which Britain is among the biggest net beneficiaries – after Brexit.
So why do we see this desperate act of disloyalty? ‘The depth of Boris’s psychology is beyond my capability to calculate,’ said one Cabinet colleague. ‘But I think he is feeling insecure.’
Clearly he has been hurt by widespread criticism. He has been sidelined over Brexit, while there were recent revelations he is so ill-disciplined that even his own civil servants see his deputy when needing a decision.
Sources say he has been alarmed to see Jacob Rees-Mogg, another cartoonish Old Etonian, emerge as the darling of activists while his own star is dimming.
Boris has shrivelled in the spotlight as Foreign Secretary. He was even found to be economical with the truth when he claimed the aircraft that flew him to the Caribbean – following his department’s sluggish response to a devastating hurricane – was packed with aid. It wasn’t.
So now he is trying to take back control – of his own destiny, his adopted cause and, ultimately, his country – by unleashing a political storm of his own making.
Once he posed as a liberal Tory. Now he is positioning himself as champion of the nationalist Right, ready to argue Brexit has been usurped so he can resign to launch another leadership assault. Never mind that the last one ended in abject humiliation.
But naturally he seeks to have his cake and eat it by professing loyalty to the PM – although you had to read thousands of words before finding any mention of Mrs May in his overblown manifesto.
He even manages to shoot down Tory efforts to win back younger voters by saying young anti-Brexit Britons have ‘split allegiances’ and questioning their patriotism.
Sadly, as the claims of hard Brexiteers get mugged by the reality of withdrawal, we see more and more of this disgraceful questioning of other people’s patriotism simply because they believe departure remains a disastrous idea.
Boris sees himself as a modern-day Churchill, a titanic figure who can come in from the cold to rescue his country amid national crisis.
The reality is more prosaic. He is a flaky opportunist who helped cause the crisis. As his former ally Michael Gove discovered, he is not suited to leadership.
Not even a terrorist attack fails to divert him from ruthless focus on his own future. Yet he has the temerity to question the patriotism of others.
The Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, once said Boris was not the sort of man you could trust to drive you home from a party. So will she and her fellow Tories really let him steer the country when such a torturous road lies ahead?