Belfast Telegraph

Boris should've been sacked for leadership bid and now Tories are living on borrowed time

PM Theresa May was simply too weak to act against her rebellious Foreign Secretary, says Alban Maginness

There is no doubt that Boris Johnson is a most gifted writer. Take his insightful book 'The Churchill Factor' and you will see the power of his writing, his ability to absorb historical archives and transform them into a well-written, entertaining and critical analysis of one of Britain's most outstanding Prime Ministers.

But along with his talent for communication, runs an unhealthy and potentially destructive ambition to emulate his hero Churchill and become Prime Minister.

Last week saw a failed bid by the Foreign Secretary to undermine the leadership of Prime Minister Theresa May, by challenging her on the central issue of Brexit.

He attempted to do so by writing an extensive and upbeat article in the Conservative-leaning Daily Telegraph on Britain post-Brexit. In the article he was attempting to curry favour with the strident right-wing Brexit element within the Tory party.

In a deliberate challenge to the PM, he stated that the UK should not pay for access to the single market after its departure from the European Union.

He also suggested that the UK Treasury could take back control of £350m per week. This, of course, was a much disputed claim during the course of the referendum campaign. Post-referendum, when the dust had settled, it was generally agreed that this was a dubious claim to make, especially in relation to funding the struggling National Health Service.

It was particularly crass and unfortunate for Boris to recycle this dubious claim, given that it had already become an embarrassment for the Brexiteers and that the politically neutral head of the independent National Statistics Authority, David Norgrove, publicly criticised the assertion and said that it was wrong.

At the same time rumours were deliberately circulated (doubtless from Johnson himself), that he might resign as Foreign Secretary over the Brexit negotiations. Once again an attempt to weaken the authority of the PM.

But none of this worked out to Boris's advantage and seriously backfired. To add further embarrassment and misery to Boris's attempt to outflank Theresa May, the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, on television publicly accused Boris of behaving like a back seat driver in relation to Brexit.

In New York, before addressing the United Nations, Theresa May rebuked Boris by pointedly saying that she was "driving from the front". This deflated Johnson's initiative and for once enhanced the besieged PM's battered position.

Rather incredibly, Boris has survived his self-created imbroglio and inept attempted coup against May. But he has done himself significant harm in any future leadership race by his public disloyalty to May and the startling ineptitude of his attempted coup.

He rightly deserved to be sacked from the Cabinet for his public show of disloyalty, but the fact that he wasn't sacked is not down to May's magnanimity, but rather her innate weakness as a default Prime Minister.

Theresa May correctly judged that she would have damaged herself more if she had sacked Boris as Foreign Secretary.

It was better, therefore, for him to stay in the Cabinet than to be a smouldering fuse on the backbenches.

All of this highlights the dysfunctional and dangerous state of British politics, where the Conservative party is in a constant state of civil war over Europe. This government is headed by an extremely weak PM, who is despised by and conspired against, by bitterly divided Cabinet ministers vying for power.

If her much-heralded Florence speech is anything to go by, May has shown little discernible sense of direction in relation to Brexit.

This so-called landmark speech was much anticipated by friend and foe alike, as it was to be a definitive outline of the government's future Brexit strategy and goals. The speech was disappointingly shallow, bereft of detail and lacking in strategy and goals.

It has clearly failed to break the basic logjam in negotiations between the British government and the EU. The EU is a hardnosed and extremely businesslike institution, that needs to be certain as to its future relationship with the UK. They must now be looking at this UK government with increasing disappointment and a sense of despair that it can ever deliver anything positive.

Inevitably the whole problem of the ill-conceived Brexit will end in tears for this unstable and incoherent Conservative government.

It is difficult to see how the government will be able to survive for very long into 2018 (even with the support of the DUP). There are too many divisions within the Conservative party for a successful and deliverable approach on Brexit being attained and with opportunistic and vainglorious politicians like Johnson about, it is hard to imagine its continued survival.

With its demise, Jeremy Corbyn as Labour Prime Minister becomes a realistic prospect.

Belfast Telegraph

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