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Theresa May is stronger without Boris Johnson

PUBLISHED: 15:06 12 July 2018 | UPDATED: 15:06 12 July 2018

Boris Johnson, who has sensationally resigned as foreign secretary, throwing the government into further turmoil after the departure of David Davis as Brexit secretary
Photo: PA / Owen Humphreys

Boris Johnson, who has sensationally resigned as foreign secretary, throwing the government into further turmoil after the departure of David Davis as Brexit secretary Photo: PA / Owen Humphreys

PA Wire/PA Images

The showdown was a long time coming. For too long our government has been fractured and divided.

Collective responsibility is a vital part of the way government works. And yet that has been largely ignored by the likes of Boris Johnson in recent times.

You cannot be a member of the cabinet and disagree with what government is doing. It really should be that simple.

Yet time after time Mr Johnson and his team briefed against what the prime minister was saying. It has been constant since Theresa May took over at Number 10. In hindsight Mrs May surely realises appointing Mr Johnson was a huge mistake. So why did she?

Brexit revealed Britain to be a divided nation. In the wake of the Brexit referendum Mrs May wanted a cabinet split between remainers and leavers. It made sense at the time but quickly it became clear that Europe was going to be a topic that would continue to damage the Tories.

Mrs May was always sceptical about our relationship with the European Union. But she didn’t want us to leave.

So the White Paper she has produced is broadly in line with her politics. This is a soft Brexit. Softer than many people thought it would be.

But that does not mean the remainers have won. The remainers – chancellor Philip Hammond et al – don’t want us to leave at all. They will not like this compromise any more than the leavers.

Mr Johnson and former Brexit secretary David Davis did the right thing in resigning. The nonsense and back biting had gone on too long. In the end Mrs May did what she should have done long ago and stood up to the unruly element of her cabinet.

One Tory MP, speaking off the record, said that now the government has a clear plan negotiations would gather pace: “I am not fully comfortable with the White Paper if I am honest.

“But at least the government is no longer paralysed. Boris is just Boris. And that is fine. But Boris can’t be Boris inside a cabinet he doesn’t agree with. The briefings were ridiculous.

“He is a clever chap – no doubt. But his obsession with becoming prime minister is out of control. He was hanging in because he hoped to be in prime position if the PM was toppled.

“I think he has blown it now. He will never be the prime minister. The way he has behaved in the past few years has been close to despicable. And I, and I am sure lots of my colleagues, have been left trying top explain what is going on to constituents.

“The average Conservative voter used to love Boris. But not anymore. They saw what he was doing. He was trying to damage the prime minister for his own gain. For a lot of party members that is unacceptable.

“I am sure he will be a useful critic of the government from the back benches – and of course that is vital. But I am delighted he is not on the cabinet anymore.

“With David I think it was different. He supposedly made his point at Chequers and then kept quiet – he didn’t toast it like Boris did. I respect David a lot more. Boris had just run out of chances.”

For a short while on Monday it felt like Mrs May might be in trouble. But, once again, she has survived. And she is stronger now.

The Brexit bunch don’t want to topple her because they know that would increase her power further – she would win and that would be there final card played.

Instead they will hope to influence the policy and nudge it back towards their Brexit. I don’t fancy their chances.

The real fear for the leave vote now is that Mrs May goes even further towards a soft Brexit. Could she succumb to the pressure being piled on by the increasingly vocal remain camp and ask the people to decided on her final deal?

Probably not. But it might come to the point where both leavers and remainers are calling for that vote.

The prospect of a ‘no deal’ Brexit is all bit off the table now. Mrs May never wanted to go down that route. But there are Tory MPs who actively back it. There only hope of a hard Brexit now is to turn the people against Mrs May’s Chequers deal. And the only way to prove that will be a vote. Those who voted leave have long argued that another referendum on the final deal would not respect the first vote – it would be undemocratic. But now they face a type of Brexit they did not want.

Don’t expect Mr Johnson to stay quiet for long. And maybe when he does start talking again it will be a final bid to stop Mrs May’s Brexit plans.

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