Andrew Vine: To make Brexit work, Theresa May must axe disloyal Boris Johnson

IF Theresa May is ever given to daydreaming, she might well fantasise about looking around a Cabinet table at a team of ministers she can trust and who offer wholehearted support.

Boris Johnson should be sacked by Theresa May, argues Andrew Vine. Do you agree?
Boris Johnson should be sacked by Theresa May, argues Andrew Vine. Do you agree?

Sadly, for her, such a scenario can only be a fantasy. Instead of loyalists, there are backstabbers and careerists with their eye on the top job – and no qualms about rubbishing the Prime Minister in public in order to get there.

Just what a menace they are not only to the Government, but to the country as it makes its tortuous way along the road to Brexit, was underlined by yesterday’s rebuke to Boris Johnson from Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary.

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His scolding that the Foreign Secretary should air views on Brexit in private, rather than via the megaphone of television interviews, was bang on target.

It was the saddest of coincidences that his intervention came as politics mourned the death of Dame Tessa Jowell, an exemplar of public service.

She was everything that the Johnsons of this world are not – loyal, a team player and committed wholeheartedly to the greater good rather than personal ambition.

That was why politicians of all parties were united in expressing their grief at her passing. They recognised how special her sheer decency and unswervingly honourable behaviour was.

And how rare, too. Just how scarce such admirable qualities are amongst the current crop of ministers was underlined by Johnson’s disgraceful condemnation of Mrs May’s proposals over customs arrangements as “crazy”.

As usual, Michael Gove backed his chum up. This unappealing double act has made undermining the Prime Minister a speciality, putting her down as if she were an irrelevance instead of the person who leads the country.

Johnson’s naked ambition and refusal to be a team player make him unfit to serve in the Government. His sense of entitlement, and conviction that he is not only unsackable but the leader-in-waiting, are breathtakingly arrogant.

Whatever he says, or does, as part of his job pales beside the permanent aura he wears of having a divine right to be Prime Minister. There is apparently not a shred of doubt in his mind that this is bound to happen. It is not a matter of if, but when.

What happens when that day comes does not appear to cross his mind. There is nothing in his record to suggest that he has any of the qualities needed to lead the country, but that’s irrelevant. He’s going to ride into Downing Street as a saviour, and everything will somehow be alright.

So he says what he likes. Collective responsibility goes to the wall, and so does a sense of the greater good. He is the antithesis of everything that Tessa Jowell embodied.

And the greater good is what matters, not ambition or pandering to a particular faction of the Conservatives. The good of the country in securing a realistic, workable Brexit deal that enables business to function effectively, and Britain to control its borders.

Neither Johnson nor the Tory fan base that shares his ambitions is doing anything to help this process, and it is time that Mrs May plucked up the courage to get rid of him.

Every time Johnson undermines the Premier, he weakens Britain’s negotiating position, making it harder to secure a deal.

From an EU perspective, how can it rely on the authority of the Prime Minister in negotiations if she cannot even compel her subordinates to stick to a single coherent policy?

Almost two years on from the vote to leave the EU, the whole process risks ending in a botched mess because of the unending clamour surrounding it.

Yesterday’s intervention by David Miliband and Sir Nick Clegg calling for Britain to stay in the European Economic Area will do little to influence the outcome. Politically, both are past their sell-by date, and their views carry little weight when it comes to hammering out the detail of how Brexit will work.

But the constant sniping from within the Government is a different matter. For all her precarious position and reliance upon the Democratic Unionist Party to prop her up, Mrs May must somehow find the strength to silence dissenting voices.

Johnson has made it plain that he refuses to toe the line, and that means he has to go. It does not necessarily follow that his sacking would start a chain reaction that brings Mrs May and the Government down, because the Conservatives will do everything in their power to cling to office. It is far from certain that the Tory ranks would rise up and propel Johnson towards his ultimate ambition.

Instead, Mrs May could well find that ridding herself of a troublesome and self-centred dissenter makes the whole process of securing a positive Brexit deal considerably easier, and that would be for the 
greater good.