DAN HODGES: Boris’s enemies are lining up to destroy him. But they should know they’ll destroy Britain too
At about 4pm on Wednesday, Boris Johnson will be driven through the gates of Buckingham Palace, ushered in to see the Queen, and be formally appointed the 55th Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. And at 4.01pm, his honeymoon as PM will be over.
‘We’re still working on the exact timing,’ one of a number of rebel Cabinet Ministers explained to me, ‘but we’re going to be resigning as a group before Boris walks into Downing Street. We think it’s important to make that statement.’
The European Research Group ‘Spartans’ are planning to give him a little longer. ‘Theresa May spent two years betraying us. Boris hasn’t got that long,’ a prominent ERG member said.
Despite the caricature of the self-serving dilettante, Boris enters No 10 with more senior ministerial and governance experience than either Tony Blair or David Cameron had when they took office
‘He’s got until October 31. I don’t believe he’s thinking of shafting us. But if he does, it’s going to be a very short premiership.’
Boris’s opponents across the Commons are hoping to make it even briefer. ‘We’re preparing for an early no confidence vote,’ a Labour MP told me.
‘Our strategy is going to be to paint him as Britain’s Trump and reach out to Tory moderates. And if they lose the Brecon and Radnorshire by-election on August 1, we think we could make it very, very dicey for him.’
This is the situation Johnson’s transition team – comprising his Chief of Staff Sir Edward Lister, Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Cabinet Office Minister Oliver Dowden – have been prepping for: one where their man enters No 10 with enemies to the left of him, enemies to the right of him and enemies in front of him.
At about 4pm on Wednesday, Boris Johnson will be driven through the gates of Buckingham Palace, ushered in to see the Queen, and be formally appointed the 55th Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. And at 4.01pm, his honeymoon as PM will be over
But the eight separate ‘work streams’ they’ve been managing – covering everything from the first moves on Brexit to the daily management of the Downing Street grid – did not account for last week’s dramatic act of international piracy perpetrated in the Persian Gulf.
The capture of the Stena Impero has sent shockwaves through Westminster – partly because of the sheer audacity of the seizure – but primarily because, as one MP said to me, ‘this has just made it real.
‘It’s actually happening. Boris will take over and the first thing he’s going to be doing is trying to prevent World War Three.’
In the hours after the news broke, there was a mini nervous breakdown within Tory ranks.
Some Ministers began speculating that the transition from May to Johnson might have to be postponed.
To his credit, Boris’s vanquished leadership contest opponent, Jeremy Hunt, moved swiftly to quash this.
‘British democracy doesn’t go on hold because of an act of piracy,’ an ally said robustly. But things have indeed ‘got real’. This is no longer a Westminster parlour game.
Boris Johnson is about to ascend to the highest office in the land at a moment of unprecedented domestic and international crisis. Which means his opponents, his supporters, and – most importantly of all, Boris himself – are all going to have to grow up.
At some point in the future, there will need to be a process of national reflection over our current political situation.
As one Minister said: ‘How is that in a nation of 70 million people, we’ve ended up with Boris Johnson as Prime Minister and Jeremy Corbyn as the alternative?’
As ever, Brexit has blinded people to reality. Johnson announced in the Tory leadership election that he plans to introduce an amnesty for illegal immigrants. He has been resolute on abortion and gay rights. People are pictured at a ‘No to Boris’ protest this weekend
But we are where we are. Whatever flaws accompany Boris as he walks through the famous black door, he also has strengths. And they must now come to the fore.
One of the most significant is that he is not his predecessor. Historians will be kinder to Theresa May than her contemporaries. But that’s not saying all that much. There is something brutally appropriate about the current crisis marking the end point of her time in office.
Mrs May’s decency and sense of public service cannot be allowed to mask the chronic dysfunctionality of her premiership.
As one observer said: ‘We’ve been caught napping’. A Minister told me it didn’t require ‘a genius’ to work out what the response would be after Royal Marines boarded and impounded an Iranian oil tanker near Gibraltar earlier this month.
‘Yes, resources are an issue,’ I was told. ‘But we’ve just opened a new naval base in Bahrain, we’ve got access to an air base in the United Arab Emirates, we’ve got the Special Boat Service in theatre and we could have flooded the area with other assets.’
May’s supposed grown-ups have been in charge since 2016, and the Stena Impero is their legacy.
Boris Johnson is about to ascend to the highest office in the land at a moment of unprecedented domestic and international crisis. Which means his opponents, his supporters, and – most importantly of all, Boris himself – are all going to have to grow up. He holds up a kipper fish on his campaign
Despite the caricature of the self-serving dilettante, Boris enters No 10 with more senior ministerial and governance experience than either Tony Blair or David Cameron had when they took office.
Rather than throw together a team in haste – as May was forced to do – he will lean on trusted advisers from his time at London’s City Hall and the Foreign Office.
Discussing the key position of Chief of Staff, one Minister told me: ‘May had Gavin Barwell, who was very nice, but was a boy sent to do a man’s job. Ed Lister will be a man sent to do a man’s job.’
Allies also insist Boris has now obtained clarity on his preferred Brexit strategy. But it isn’t the full-throated, turbo-charged No Deal approach his Cabinet opponents fear and the ERG ultras long for.
‘The reality is Boris is going to put some bright lipstick on May’s deal,’ said one MP. ‘He’s then going to tie delivery of Brexit to a huge regional investment package. And he’s going to say to Labour MPs and the ERG, ‘‘Back this or you lose the investment, you lose Brexit and you get Jeremy Corbyn.” ’
Indeed, Boris’s biggest advantage is going to be handed to him by Corbyn and his imploding Labour Party – in particular their favoured attack line that ‘Boris is the new Trump’. For all his failings, Boris Johnson is not Britain’s Donald Trump.
As an ally pointed out: ‘There was a time when you could get the Tory modernisers in a single taxi. David Cameron, George Osborne and Boris were the only three Tory MPs who defied Iain Duncan Smith back in 2002 on same-sex adoption. Boris is not a Right-wing Neanderthal, and if people try to paint him as that, he’ll turn it against them.’
As ever, Brexit has blinded people to reality. Johnson announced in the Tory leadership election that he plans to introduce an amnesty for illegal immigrants. He has been resolute on abortion and gay rights.
And his record as London Mayor shows that, to the extent that he has an ideology, it is as a pragmatic, modernising, one-nation centrist.
And even if he isn’t, it doesn’t really make any difference. Boris Johnson is our next Prime Minister.
Like it or not, the finger resting on the nuclear button will be his.
So people have a choice. They can try to destroy him from day one. Remain Cabinet Ministers can make their empty gesture of protest.
The ERG can threaten to tear him down, and Brexit with it. Labour can bring the no-confidence motion that would send Jeremy Corbyn and his anti-Semitic, neo-Marxist thugs into Downing Street.
Or he can be given the time and space to see what he can do for a country and a world that is this morning teetering on the brink.
As I’ve said, one day we will have to have a long, hard think about how we got here. But for now, all we can do is wish him well.
Monday’s Downing Street reception for the triumphant England cricket team was a big success, with Eoin Morgan and his squad charming the Prime Minister and her aides.
But I’m told the PM infuriated her Ministers by keeping them in the dark about the event.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Home Secretary Sajid Javid found out at the last minute and managed to gatecrash, but others weren’t so lucky.
Justice Secretary David Gauke – a keen cricket fan who attended the dramatic final – discovered too late, from his Ministerial driver, that the players were at No 10.
‘Theresa wanted to bask in the glory herself,’ a Minister tells me. That’s just not cricket, Mrs May.
Monday’s Downing Street reception for the triumphant England cricket team was a big success, with Eoin Morgan and his squad charming the Prime Minister and her aides
I understand the frantic efforts of Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd to bag a senior job in Boris Johnson’s Cabinet are failing to impress.
‘Her friends have been telling everyone she’s going to be the new Foreign Secretary,’ a senior Boris ally informs me, ‘and it’s not going down well.
Boris hasn’t made any promises and Amber isn’t helping herself.’ At this rate, she’ll be driving herself away from any meeting with the new PM at No 10.
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