On 18 July, 2018, Boris Johnson made a statement in the British House of Commons, explaining why he had resigned the post of Her Majesty’s Principal Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.
It was streamed live, and we have here the unedited video.
We’re greeted with the bear-garden noise that is characteristic of the House of Commons, and Boris raises his voice to come in over it. That, the tribute he then pays to the government department that he represented for a time, and the constant glowing praise to the Prime Minister (PM), are all par for the course for such a statement.
At around 01:30 the speech morphs seamlessly into addressing its main purpose.
Immediately it is clear that his theme here is to compare the Brexit proposal that emerged from the meeting at Chequers (the PM’s country house) the previous week to the Brexit speech made by the PM on 17 January 2017 at Lancaster House. Thus he sidesteps any accusation that he has changed his allegiance to the PM, and instead implies that she has changed her allegiance to her own stated aims.
He blames this on a “fog of self doubt” which has descended upon her, though he chooses not to analyse the source of the fog. He tells us how well Lancaster House was received not just by him but by commentators, the markets, our world allies, those in the Commonwealth and so on.
This speech is a very eloquent comparison of the bright, sunlit uplands of Lancaster House with the cringing defeatism of Chequers.
Boris points out that he had said at the Chequers meeting that he could not support the proposal on the table. What he does not say, because he does not need to, is that there is only one way for a Cabinet member publicly to refuse to support a Cabinet communique and that is to resign.
His principal message, indeed the Face of the speech, is that there is still time to return to the values of Lancaster House, and pledging his support he urges the PM to do so. It’s a very good speech.
But what of that “fog”? Whence came it?
Let us try to continue to play the game that everyone else has played by overlooking that the PM was a remainer in the referendum: let us take at face value her repeated assurances that Brexit meant Brexit. It requires a certain amount of credulousness because it inevitably assumes that the PM must be stupid, but let’s go down that route. What was she thinking when she surrounded herself with an extremist clique of Brexophobic civil servants and then allowed them to get ideas above their station? Wasn’t that “fog” inevitable?
Boris is right that it is not too late, but May is surely not the one any more. The administration needs a new broom.