Boris Johnson is on the edge | Analysis


Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson - Flickr/Chatham House

Boris Johnson is in a very dark place politically. After a year of constant criticism of his lacklustre performance at the Foreign and Commonwealth office, the foreign secretary blew up at his cabinet adversaries through a 4,000 word essay on Brexit. And like any explosion, this did nothing to make his (political) environment anymore pleasant.

The article didn’t read like one written by a man who cares about his future in government or collective cabinet responsibility. It wasn’t approved by Downing Street beforehand and veered from one government department to the next.

It is easy to jump to the conclusion that this is another naked leadership bid by an ambitious foreign secretary, but that would be far too ignorant and simplistic. For Johnson, this isn’t about him, it’s about Brexit. He did this not to feed his ambition, but because he has nothing to lose.

As foreign secretary and the man who led the Leave campaign, Johnson has played a surprisingly small role in the Brexit negotiations, with Downing Street purposely cutting him out of the process.

When Johnson was in the Caribbean last week to oversee recovery efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, a meeting took place in Downing Street between Philip Hammond, David Davis, Amber Rudd, and the prime minister to discuss her upcoming speech in Florence regarding a post-Brexit transitional period.

It should come as no surprise, therefore, that Johnson felt the need to make his views clear – albeit outside the room and to the public. For a man who put so much into the campaign to take Britain out of the EU, being cut out of the decision making on the matter in such a humiliating and demeaning way has been too much to swallow.

The most important part of the foreign secretary’s article is the red line set on any future transitional agreement – Johnson says the government shouldn’t have to pay large sums into EU coffers after March 2019.

The red line will probably be breached by the prime minister when she sets out plans in Florence to contribute to the EU budget in return for single market access during a post-Brexit transitional period, and Boris knows that. It therefore seems that it’s a red line set for himself as well as the prime minister, and as it is unlikely to hold, a disgruntled Boris Johnson has effectively set the stage for his exit from the cabinet.

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