Belfast Telegraph

PM says brother Jo 'a brilliant minister' as he quits role after grappling with Brexit dilemma

Jo Johnson
Jo Johnson
Boris Johnson
The PM turning around as a police officer fainted behind him

By David Hughes

Boris Johnson yesterday acknowledged a Brexit split with his brother Jo, who quit the Government, saying he had been "torn between family loyalty and the national interest".

Jo Johnson, who had been a senior minister attending meetings of his brother's Cabinet, said it was an "unresolvable tension".

The Prime Minister said his brother "does not agree with me about the European Union because it's an issue that obviously divides families and divides everybody".

But he maintained his uncompromising stance over the October 31 Brexit date, saying he would rather be "dead in a ditch" than go to Brussels to ask for a further delay.

Jo Johnson announced on Twitter he was quitting his role as Universities Minister and would stand down as MP for Orpington.

He said: "In recent weeks I've been torn between family loyalty and the national interest - it's an unresolvable tension & time for others to take on my roles as MP & Minister. #overandout"

Jo Johnson is pro-European and has previously called for a second referendum, a position that puts him at odds with the Prime Minister, who has vowed to leave the EU on October 31 with or without a Brexit deal.

Tensions over Europe within the family are well known, with sister, Rachel Johnson, joking "the family avoids the topic of Brexit, especially at meals, as we don't want to gang up on the PM".

It is understood Jo Johnson will stand down as an MP at the next election.

Also yesterday, Northern Ireland minister Nick Hurd became the latest Tory MP to announce he would not stand at the next general election as he cited "the ongoing division over Brexit".

Speaking in Yorkshire, the Prime Minister said his younger brother was a "fantastic guy" and a "brilliant minister".

Acknowledging the split on Europe, he added: "What Jo would agree is that we need to get on and sort this thing out."

Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner said: "Boris Johnson poses such a threat that even his own brother doesn't trust him."

Shadow policing minister Lou Haigh added: "If your own brother doesn't believe you're acting in the national interest, why should the country?"

Former justice secretary David Gauke, one of those who lost the whip for rebelling against the Government this week, said: "Lots of MPs have had to wrestle with conflicting loyalties in recent weeks. None more so than Jo. This is a big loss to Parliament, the Government and the Conservative Party."

The shock resignation came as his brother geared up for an election campaign which will focus on his uncompromising approach to Brexit. The Government will mount a fresh attempt to call an early election on Monday after failing in a bid on Wednesday to go to the country on October 15.

Opposition parties are in talks about how to respond to Mr Johnson's call for a snap election, with concern about whether the poll should be delayed until after an extension has been secured to prevent a no-deal Brexit on October 31.

A cross-party bid to require the PM to ask for a Brexit extension if there is not a deal in place cleared the Commons on Wednesday and is due to complete its progress through the Lords today.

Asked if he could make a promise to the public not to return to Brussels to ask for a further Brexit delay, the PM said: "Yes, I can. I would rather be dead in a ditch."

But he declined to give a direct answer when asked if he would resign before requesting that delay. Instead, he said: "It costs a billion pounds a month, it achieves absolutely nothing. What on Earth is the point of further delay? I think it's totally, totally pointless."

The Prime Minister said he hated "banging on about Brexit" and added: "I don't want an election at all, but frankly I cannot see any other way.

"The only way to get this thing done, to get this thing moving, is to make that decision.

"Do you want this Government to take us out on October 31 or do you want Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party to go to that crucial summit in Brussels on October 17, effectively hand over control to the EU and keep us in beyond October 31?

"I think it's a no-brainer and I'm sorry to bring this painful subject up this afternoon, but that's the reality of what we face and for me there can only be one way forward for our country."

Mr Johnson had been speaking for about 20 minutes when a student police officer appeared to become unwell as he was answering questions from journalists

She was one of about 35 student officers who were standing in lines behind him, providing a backdrop to his speech at West Yorkshire Police's operations and training complex in Wakefield.

The officers had been standing behind his lectern, in front of an old-style police box, for at least 20 minutes before the speech began.

The young woman officer appeared to hold her hat and then sit down as others around her looked concerned.

Colleagues sitting in the audience in front of the Prime Minister drew his attention to her plight, prompting him to turn and ask her: "Are you all right?"

As the officer sat with her head bowed, Mr Johnson said: "I'm so sorry, OK that is a signal for me actively to wind up."

Mr Johnson had finished his speech and had answered a number of questions from journalists seated behind the officers in the audience.

He then continued to criticise Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn for not backing his plans for a snap general election, before he stopped talking.

As he finished, all the police present stood up and Mr Johnson went over to check on the stricken officer. She was then attended to by colleagues.

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