Boris Johnson was accused of ‘back seat driving’ the Brexit talks today as a Cabinet row exploded into public view.
Home Secretary Amber Rudd blasted ‘I don’t want him managing the Brexit process’ and urged the Foreign Secretary to leave the talks to Theresa May.
Meanwhile, allies of Environment Secretary Michael Gove and Aid Secretary Priti Patel said the Vote Leave veterans were solidly behind Mr Johnson.
Mr Johnson stunned Westminster with a 4,000-world article setting out his personal vision for Brexit yesterday in what many saw as a brazen leadership bid.
No 10 has scrambled to insist the Government is united less than a week before Mrs May makes a major Brexit intervention with a speech in Florence.
Ms Rudd used a major TV interview today to give a glimpse into the fury at Mr Johnson’s intervention.
Home Secretary Amber Rudd (pictured on the Andrew Marr show today) accused Boris Johnson of ‘back seat driving’ the Brexit talks today
Ms Rudd used a major TV interview today (pictured) to give a glimpse into the fury at Mr Johnson’s intervention
She famously told a TV debate during the referendum campaign she would not want Mr Johnson ‘driving her home at the end of the evening’.
Ms Rudd said she had not read Mr Johnson’s piece as she had ‘quite a lot to do’ responding to the Parsons Green terror attack.
And today she told the BBC’s Andrew Marr that Ruth Davidson ‘had a point’ in suggesting the timing of Mr Johnson’s intervention was unhelpful.
She said: ‘I had a very busy weekend dealing with what could have been a terrible attack on our transport system.’
Ms Rudd added: ‘I have the great good fortune to work with Boris. I know what an irrepressible enthusiast he is about Brexit and what he has done is set it out there – I think it’s fine and I would expect nothing less.
‘I don’t want him managing the Brexit process. What we have got is Theresa May managing that process, driving the car to continue the allegory.
‘I am going to make sure that as far as I cam concerned and the rest of the Cabinet is concerned, we help her do that. This is difficult moment.’
The Foreign Secretary published a 4,000-word essay setting out his personal manifesto for Brexit
Prompted to agree Mr Johnson was back street driving, she said: ‘You could call it back seat driving.’
Ms Rudd said ‘time will tell’ if Mr Johnson’s article was a ‘helpful intervention’.
Mr Johnson was backed by friends of Mr Gove and Ms Patel today.
A Whitehall source told the Sunday Telegaph: ‘Boris and Michael have said to Downing Street that the £350million [NHS funding] promise was made to Leave voters and we’ve got to follow through with that when we leave the EU. Both of them are also of one mind when it comes to the Brexit bill.’
A friend of Ms Patel added: ‘The principle has to be that government policy is reclaiming control of our money and that gives us the freedom to spend it however we wish on our domestic priorities, which is what she said during the campaign.’
Allies of Mrs May last night accused Boris Johnson of treachery after he staged an open revolt over her plans for a ‘soft’ Brexit.
The Prime Minister was said to be furious after the Foreign Secretary said Britain should refuse to pay the EU a big divorce bill – and did not bother to tell her about his bombshell intervention in advance.
Lib Dem leader Vince Cable said the Prime Minister must fire her foreign secretary to maintain any sense of credibility.
Lib Dem leader Vince Cable (pictured today on Andrew Marr) said the Prime Minister must fire her foreign secretary to maintain any sense of credibility
He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr: ‘It’s a terrible situation and it puts Theresa May in an impossible position.
‘I just don’t understand why she hasn’t fired him.’
‘It is complete and absolute loss of authority and the Prime Minister on Monday morning should fire this guy, otherwise her own credibility is reduced to zero.
One of Johnson’s most prominent ‘hard Brexit’ Conservative MP supporters boasted: ‘He has just lobbed a hand grenade through Downing Street’s window.’
Fellow Cabinet Ministers claimed Mr Johnson’s Churchillian Brexit manifesto was a blatant attempt to oust Mrs May. And one former Minister said the PM should ‘have the balls’ to fire Mr Johnson for threatening to sabotage her own major Brexit speech in Florence this week.
Downing Street officials denied there was a rift between the two and said Mr Johnson’s job was safe. But Cabinet Ministers loyal to Mrs May privately denounced his ‘hostile’ intervention. One said the PM was ‘deeply disappointed’ – politician’s code for livid.
The move comes just days before Mrs May is due to make a pivotal speech on the issue and will be seen as an attempt to box her in
Another accused Johnson of ‘attention seeking’. There were claims, denied by the Johnson camp, that he was preparing to resign in anticipation of a ‘soft Brexit sell-out’ by Mrs May.
Brexit Secretary David Davis was reportedly angry with Johnson for reviving his controversial claim from the EU referendum that Britain would be £350 million a week better off outside the EU.
‘DD’s view is that it was wrong for Boris to make the £350 million claim then and he is wrong to bring it up now,’ said a well-placed source.’
A close ally of Johnson’s biggest Cabinet foe, Chancellor Philip Hammond, said: ‘This just confirms suspicions about Boris’s ambitions.
‘It is disloyal and damaging for the Party and for getting a deal with the EU because it suggests division and chaos. His £350 million claim is the most notorious and discredited statistic in modern British history. If his credibility depends on that figure, it doesn’t say much for his credibility.’
One of Mrs May’s close confidants described Johnson’s conduct as ‘extraordinary and hostile,’ adding: ‘It is just attention-seeking. I have given up trying to analyse what Boris says, he is infuriating and just desperate for headlines. If he resigned he would be finished.’
The row flared after Johnson set out his own vision for Brexit in a 4,000-word article in the Daily Telegraph. In an astonishingly open act of defiance, he refused to inform Mrs May until moments before it was published.
Johnson argued Britain should not carry on paying into EU coffers after Brexit in 2019 and said that staying in the single market would make a ‘complete mockery’ of the referendum.
His comments follow reports that Mrs May is preparing to pay up to £40 billion in a Brexit divorce bill to keep access to the single market over a two-year transition.
Johnson won praise from leading Brexiteer Tories. Jacob Rees-Mogg, seen by some as a leadership rival to Johnson, praised ‘brilliant Boris’ while Zac Goldsmith and Nadine Dorries also pledged support.
Most, but significantly not all, pro-Remain MPs savaged Johnson. A leading pro-EU ex-Minister said: ‘Theresa should have the balls to sack Boris. It would be high risk but if she moved quickly – and squared off David Davis about it – she could and should do it.’
So brazen, divisive and Churchillian, the opus was pure Boris
By GLEN OWEN
Boris Johnson ‘s 4,000-word opus boils with frustration at Theresa May’s direction of travel on Brexit – and is more notable for what it doesn’t say than what it does.
Boris flatly refuses to endorse a transition period.
While even the most ardent Leavers in the Government now accept that the UK should remain in the single market and customs union for two to three years after March 2019, while new trade deals are struck, Boris stubbornly resists.
To do so, he says, would ‘make a complete mockery of Brexit and turn an opportunity into a national humiliation. It would be the worst of both worlds, with the UK turned into a vassal state’.
He also rebels against the growing Whitehall consensus that the UK should make multibillion pound ‘divorce’ payments during the transition to unblock negotiations, saying: ‘We would not expect to pay for access to their markets any more than they would expect to pay for access to ours’.
This is not a minor distinction which can be easily finessed: it blows a clear hole in No 10’s strategy just days before the most important speech of the Prime Minister’s life, when she sets out her own Brexit plan in Florence on Friday.
Boris’s unembarrassed reference to his referendum pledge to return £350 million a week from Brussels to the NHS shows how determined he is to defend himself against claims of backsliding. He repeats the campaign mantra, saying: ‘We will take back control of roughly £350 million per week. It would be a fine thing if a lot of that money went on the NHS’.
The Foreign Secretary also issues a warning to Chancellor Phillip Hammond, the Cabinet’s most powerful advocate for a transitionary ‘soft’ Brexit, by saying that the Treasury has not ‘so far’ sought to punish the British people for voting for Brexit by delivering an ’emergency Budget’ of the sort so controversially threatened by former Chancellor George Osborne before the vote.
Another giveaway that the article is designed to lay down a marker for a veiled leadership bid comes in the tone, which channels the rhetorical flourish of his great hero, Winston Churchill.
In contrast to Theresa May’s constipated verbal formulas, Boris strikes a consciously positive, optimistic note – pushing the patriotic button with lines such as: ‘Of all the kings, queens, presidents and prime ministers in the world, one in seven was educated in this country’.
He concludes by condemning the ‘grievous error’ of ‘all those who wrote off this country, who think we don’t have it in us, who think that we lack the nerve and the confidence to tackle the task ahead’.
The senior figure argued that Johnson had ‘panicked’ because ‘he knows most of the Cabinet realises the only sensible Brexit is a soft Brexit and that we will have to pay a sizeable sum.’
However, Mrs May’s frail grip on power was reflected by the fact Johnson received emphatic backing from a distinguished Tory grandee known for his passionate pro-EU views. He said: ‘Even though I am a strong Remainer I agree with much of what Boris says and don’t believe he is being disloyal. We are crying out for leadership and at least Boris he has got off his a*** and given us some. Brexit is our biggest crisis since 1940 and we won’t get far sitting around looking at our belly buttons.’
With Brexit talks close to breakdown and Mrs May under fire for her botched snap Election, Conservative Party managers fear Johnson’s outburst could trigger a full-scale leadership crisis at the party conference in two weeks.
Davis, Home Secretary Amber Rudd, Rees-Mogg and other Tories have been tipped to throw their hats into the ring if Mrs May resigns.
Some Cabinet Ministers believe Environment Secretary Michael Gove could be in cahoots with Johnson, despite their spectacular fallout last year when Gove sabotaged Johnson’s bid to succeed David Cameron after they had led the Brexit campaign together.
Mr Gove denied any collusion. A spokesman said last night: ‘The first Michael knew about Boris’s article was when it was published on Friday night.’
After pleas from No 10 to make it clear he was not plotting against Mrs May, Johnson, apparently unconcerned by the furore he had started, tweeted jauntily: ‘Looking forward to PM’s Florence speech. All behind Theresa for a glorious Brexit.’
Was he taking revenge for Election ‘snub’?
By Brendan Carlin
OUTSPOKEN: Ruth Davidson is a long-time critic of Boris
The refusal by Boris Johnson to let Theresa May see his devastating ‘Brexit manifesto’ could have been revenge for a similar snub by her in the Election, it was claimed last night.
Mrs May’s aides banned him from seeing the Tories’ Election manifesto in advance because they were convinced he would leak it, according to a new book by political journalists Tim Ross and Tom McTague.
They say the Foreign Secretary was annoyed to be ‘locked out of the manifesto-writing process’ and that his repeated demands to see it were rejected because he was not deemed ‘trustworthy’.
The book, being serialised in the MoS, quotes a May aide saying: ‘No doubt Boris wanted to leak it so he wasn’t going to see it.’ Last night, one Tory MP privately suggested Mr Boris’s surprise Brexit intervention could be ‘Boris getting his own back on Theresa’ for the manifesto snub.
The rebuff is one of a series of humiliations inflicted on Mr Johnson by Mrs May.
Two years ago as Home Secretary, she embarrassed Mr Johnson by thwarting the then London mayor’s bid to use German-made water cannon in the capital – even though he had already bought them.
Mrs May insisted she would not lift the ban on police using water cannon because it was too dangerous and would damage public trust.
At the launch of her Tory leadership campaign in 2016, she mocked him for spending £200,000 on the second-hand cannons – that were never used – claiming it proved he was not fit to take charge of Brexit talks. ‘The last time he did a deal with the Germans, he came back with three nearly-new water cannon,’ she said.
Her most spectacular public put-down came at the Spectator magazine annual awards dinner last year.
Ruth leads the anti-Johnson backlash
By Glen Owen
Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson launched an outspoken attack on Boris Johnson for throwing down the gauntlet to Theresa May on the day that London was targeted by terrorists.
Ms Davidson said: ‘On the day of a terror attack where Britons were maimed, just hours after the threat level is raised, our only thoughts should be on service.’
It is not the first time that the two Tories, both of whom have been tipped as future party leaders, have clashed.
Friends say that Ms Davidson, a 38-year-old Army reservist ‘cordially loathes’ the 52-year-old Old Etonian, regarding him as ‘toxic’ to the party’s prospects north of the border.
A kickboxer who is engaged to her female partner, she has been openly mocking of his ‘brazen chauvinistic style’ and has even privately threatened to break from the UK Tories and form a new party if Boris became Prime Minister. Such a move would be devastating: Theresa May only clung on to power in the General Election thanks to the 12 seats Ms Davidson gained in Scotland.
The enmity stems in large part from Boris’s Brexit beliefs, which Remainer Ms Davidson strongly opposes. During the referendum she warned that leaving the EU would harm the poor most, while ‘Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage would be OK’ because of their wealth.
In one TV debate, questioning the economic effect of a failure to strike post-Brexit trade deals, she taunted him: ‘How many jobs will it be, Boris? How many?’
She has also cracked near- the-knuckle jokes about ‘the Tories enjoying a post-coital cigarette after withdrawing our massive Johnson.’
Ms Davidson, whose down-to-earth style has been a hit with voters, has surged past Boris in internal Party popularity.
After Mrs May’s Election disaster, Ms Davidson won the highest net satisfaction rating among party members of any senior Tory – with an 84.5 per cent positive rating, well ahead of Boris at 38.8 per cent.
Ms Davidson, who does not have a Westminster seat, has said that her first aim is to displace the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon as First Minister of Scotland.
But her popularity means that other Tory leadership contenders have been courting her as the leadership ‘kingmaker’.
Seizing on a remark by Mr Johnson who had light-heartedly compared himself to Michael Heseltine’s Alsatian dog, and with the Foreign Secretary in the audience, the Prime Minister quipped: ‘Boris, the dog was put down… when its master decided it wasn’t needed any more.’
In her first speech to the Tory conference as leader last year, she jokingly questioned the Foreign Secretary’s ability to stick to an agreed Government line, asking: ‘Can Boris Johnson stay on message for a full four days?’
In a further humiliation, there were reports that, far from Mr Johnson pulling out of a trip to Moscow at the last minute to attend a summit on Syria in April this year, it was actually Mrs May who had stepped in and ordered the Foreign Secretary not to go.
Last night, allies of Mr Johnson denied that his Brexit article amounted to an attempt to take revenge on the Prime Minister over the Election manifesto snub.
They also dismissed the idea that he was considered untrustworthy by Mrs May’s advisers.
One Johnson ally confirmed that the Foreign Secretary had made repeated requests to see the Election manifesto but insisted that almost every other Cabinet Minister had done so as well – and had also been turned down.