Jo Johnson steals limelight from older brother with shock resignation
Former minister says he is ‘united in fraternal dismay’ with his sibling Boris over Government Brexit policy.
Jo Johnson may lack the bombast and first name recognition of his older brother Boris, but his surprise resignation as Transport Minister shows he shares the family knack for creating political drama.
In a tale of two Johnsons, he has followed his former foreign secretary sibling to the backbenches over Brexit – but in doing so is seeking a very different outcome.
In a stinging resignation statement that caught Westminster off guard, Mr Johnson showed he also shares his brother’s love of florid language as he demanded a second Brexit referendum because Prime Minister Theresa May was leading the country towards a “terrible mistake”.
To present the nation with a choice between two deeply unattractive outcomes, vassalage and chaos, is a failure of British statecraft on a scale unseen since the Suez crisis Jo Johnson
A firm Remainer, Mr Johnson said he had wanted Brexit to work in order to “reunite our country, our party and, yes, my family too”, but in a damning historical comparison he laid into the Prime Minister’s stance, stating: “To present the nation with a choice between two deeply unattractive outcomes, vassalage and chaos, is a failure of British statecraft on a scale unseen since the Suez crisis.”
Mr Johnson, 46, had a swift rise through Tory ranks after being elected MP for Orpington in 2010 as he was appointed to head the Number 10 policy unit and made a Cabinet Office minister in 2013.
After the 2015 Tory election victory he became universities and science minister, a role he held until January 2018 when he switched to the transport department as rail minister and was also made minister for London.
Unlike his brother, Mr Johnson has largely avoided controversy but became involved in a bruising political squall over the appointment of journalist and free school campaigner Toby Young to the board of the Office for Students (OfS) last January.
Mr Young quit the role after social media posts from his past caused an outcry.
Like his older brother, Mr Johnson enjoyed a distinguished career in journalism before entering politics, working for the Financial Times as, among other roles, South East Asia bureau chief and Paris correspondent.
After receiving a first class Oxford degree in modern history in 1994, Mr Johnson worked as an investment banker before going into the media.
And his sharpness with words was evident in his resignation statement as he insisted “Britain stands on the brink of the greatest crisis since the Second World War”.
But he added his sudden exit from the Government gave him a fresh perspective on family unity, stating: “My brother Boris, who led the Leave campaign, is as unhappy with the Government’s proposals as I am. Indeed he recently observed that the proposed arrangements were ‘substantially worse than staying in the EU’.
“On that he is unquestionably right. If these negotiations have achieved little else, they have at least united us in fraternal dismay.”
In an uncharacteristically bold move, Mr Johnson has, at least temporarily, stepped out of the shadow of his older brother, and at the same time cast a new shadow over Mrs May’s hopes of getting Tory unity on her Brexit plans.