[Update: At of this PM, the Telegraph says Boris will resign this weekend, and Boris has said he won't. So that's clear.]
At weekend, Boris Johnson gave the bag of Cabinet balls a good shake, meaning we're quite possibly in for another round of Leadership Bingo! But who will get the Key of the Door and replace One Little (lame) Duck?
Will it be Boris "Duck and Dive" Johnson? Maybe Phillip "Legs Eleven" Hammond will tunnel through to next door? Michael "Any way Up" Gove? Or even Jacob "Burlington Bertie" Rees-Mogg - though he represents 1830 so is unlikely to feature in many games of Bingo, even Government ones. One thing is for certain - it'll definitely be Unlucky for some, and Theresa's card is well and truly marked.
(That concludes the Bingo metaphor).
Boris Johnson is a narcissistic serial liar with no principles beyond his own advancement. I was going to use that as the headline but it doesn't even count as news.
His intervention at weekend has, as planned, not only propelled him back into the spotlight he so craves, it has simultaneously propelled Theresa May into a position which could mean at least one ministerial resignation or sacking, quite possibly before October is out. And then all the balls are in the air (Sorry - last one, promise).
He's done it using an old political trick usually reserved for battles against Opposition parties - predict what your enemy is planning then tell them to do it but in spades. Your enemy then has three choices: -
- Do what they were going to do regardless. This makes it look as if they've caved in to your demands to a large extent, and that (to coin a phrase) you are driving the car.
- Go further than originally planned, and do pretty much what you've suggested. Then of course you *are* driving the car.
- Defiantly move in the opposite direction. Then they are actively sabotaging their own plans, and in either case it looks weak & wobbly because everybody thought your suggestion was the original plan (also applies if the prediction was totally wrong. Win-win).
A common trick used to strong effect in the past. This time it has hung the Sword of Damocles over Theresa May's head during her planned speech in Florence on Friday. A sword which could cut either of two ways (a double-edged Sword of Damocles, if I'm allowed to horribly mix a metaphor).
Theresa May now has to give a speech which is pivotal to the next stage of EU negotiations with the clear threat that if she doesn't get tough enough with Brussels & the Telegraph and Mail aren't satisfied, Boris will not only denounce the plan as useless and destined to fail (update: He's already done this, in the Sun), but may quit cabinet - with his CV for the inevitable Leadership challenge already written.
She seems to have pieced together a fragile agreement with Cabinet, including DExEU, that some concessions regarding payments are necessary for progress, and actually provide a stronger negotiating hand for the UK - plus they allow continued access to vital arrangements such as Europol and Euratom.
If Theresa May now goes back on this arrangement over payments, immigration or CJEU jurisdiction this will infuriate the Soft Brexiters in Cabinet (Not to mention the EU), possibly causing the Chancellor or Home Secretary to resign. The outcome is the same either way - collapse of Cabinet and Leadership challenges spring immediately to life.
The truly shocking aspect of Johnson's intervention is that it repeats statements that were discredited during or immediately after the Referendum, even by some of those making them (you know which I mean). So he's in effect saying "These may be lies, but they're lies that caused some people to vote Leave, so we must continue with them as if true. And if you don't, Theresa, you're being weak".
In days not long past, a Secretary of State lying to the public in this way, let alone challenging the Prime Minister so openly, would be on their arse Gove-like outside Number 10 within the week. But Theresa May can't even sack Larry the Downing Street cat without risking bringing down the Government, so on she trundles towards Friday's speech terrified to challenge those who challenge her. Her strongest condemnation of this treachery was "Boris is Boris". Maggie must be turning in her grave.
I don't think that even Boris's huge ego and flare for the dramatic will cause him to resign before or (gasp) during the Tory party Conference, and if Theresa takes the Hard Brexit line instead, the Soft Brexit camp are a much more sober bunch so will certainly bide their time. But there'll be many closed-door gatherings at Conference, and it really can't be much beyond then that the Leadership challenges emerge. It's possible that Jacob Rees-Mogg is being groomed as a Stalking horse for this, as he has the ideal credentials (huge sense of self-importance and zero chance of winning).
Conference will be entertaining this year.