As responses go, it’s wasn’t great. But then neither, sadly, is the Prime Minister. Today’s “Boris is Boris” quote is of course a repeat of Tony Blair’s famous response to John Prescott’s televised punching of a voter in the chops in Rhyl during the 2001 general election campaign. There is however a huge difference between the positions of these two prime ministers. TB was using JP to strengthen his position, especially with the trade unions; TM is being used by BJ and is being weakened every day that passes without her stamping her authority on proceedings.
Every day that passes in which Boris continues to act like a spoilt brat, stamping his feet as he fails to get his own way on Brexit, the Prime Minister’s position gets weaker. As with so much she touches, this has been handled with all the communications grace and skill of a elderly elephant trying to tap dance on a unicycle whilst whistling the theme tune from Yes Minister and playing the bassoon.
I do not pretend the situation is easy for Mrs May. Whatever course of action she takes brings with it potential political peril. But not acting – appeasing Bo Jo – is the worst possible route out of this mess.
Sacking him could lead to one of three things. The end of Theresa May. The end of of Boris Johnson. The end of the Tory Party. It is finely balanced and is hard to call which way it will go. My gut tells me that Boris is trying to get sacked so he can play the role as the slighted Brexit martyr in the eyes of the Tory backbenchers. Any dismissal of him could clearly precipitate a leaderships challenge but given his track record in such contest the outcome is by no means a winning one. Alongside that is the possibility that a booted out Boris may become a lightening rod for the divisions within the party, not just on Brexit but the classic one nation/Thatcherite spilt which could lead to the uneasy truce that he has held for decades finally coming apart. Although it has to be said that the way he is behaving – its all about me – brings with it that risk to the future of the party anyway. He is successfully sowing division and unhappiness from within the cabinet, let alone off the lease on the rear portion of those famous green benches.
Mrs May’s position seemed safe until her recent ill-advised intervention suggesting she would like to lead the party into the next election. She has two hopes on that front as the old saying goes, and one of them is Bob. Sadly her most recent tone deaf pronouncement – there have been so many of late – has brought her leadership back into the picture after it appeared she would be allowed to stay, get Brexit done and then make a graceful exit stage right to spend more time walking in Wales. It is all up in the air again now – partly due to her hopeless leadership and accident prone communications and partly because Boris is back being Boris; a tiresome, self important liability; making himself and the government a figure of ridicule.
Whatever Mrs May decides to do, it is clear that you cannot tolerate someone in your team – one of its senior members – behaving with such a lack of respect and discipline. Boris is showing again he is not a team player and there must be consequences. In my judgement, he must be replaced as Foreign Secretary ASAP – offered another role – something which keeps him in the tent but move him to the draft, colder end of it, preferably with the occasional drops of rain landing on is countenance. Of course, he is likely to reject such an offer but it should be made in any case – in the interests of asserting authority and trying to preserve some semblance of unity. Along the shuffle of the Boris, Mrs May could then give others a shot at office and the chance – AKA Cameron and co under Michael Howard – to get the time and opportunity to prove their worth before the official leadership election looms large.
Mrs May needs to act before she finds not only that Boris is Boris but that Theresa is toast more quickly than she would have liked and perhaps along with her the party that has given her so much understanding of late may be a goner too. Doing nothing is not an option.