Politics 9 November 2018 | 18:16

This time a Johnson really could make a difference

09 November 2018 18:16

How many Johnsons have to resign before Theresa May realises that her Brexit plan is in desperate trouble? First Boris – the arch-Brexiteer – left the Cabinet over the Chequers plan. Now, Jo Johnson – a Remainer, by contrast – has quit as rail minister, accusing the PM of presenting the country with a choice between ‘vassalage and chaos’.

This is a huge embarrassment for May, as she struggles to persuade her government that the deal she is close to reaching with Brussels is worthy of their support. Thus far, she has not been rewarded with the backing that she seeks, in spite of many hours of persuasion around the Cabinet table and away from it. The timing of Johnson’s departure could scarcely be worse. His resignation is also a sharp reminder that there are many Remainer Tories who think that the PM’s plan is nonsense on stilts.

And Johnson is right. The proposals on offer vary only in the extent of their weakness. Either we accept a mess of compromises that will leave the UK in the EU customs union for an indefinite period, a rule-taker but not a rule-maker – and may also involve a border between Northern Ireland and mainland Britain; or we embrace the absurd nightmare of a ‘no-deal’ exit. As he puts it: ‘To present the nation with a choice between two deeply unattractive outcomes, vassalage and chaos, is a failure of British statecraft on a scale unseen since the Suez crisis.’

Most important of all, Johnson (doubtless following DRUGSTORE CULTURE’s lead) has backed a People’s Vote. ‘On this most crucial of questions, I believe it is entirely right to go back to the people and ask them to confirm their decision to leave the EU and, if they choose to do that, to give them the final say on whether we leave with the prime minister’s deal or without it. To do anything less will do grave damage to our democracy.’

Quite right, too. It is good to see a senior Conservative putting principle first and acknowledging that it is better to apply the handbrake than let the SatNav take you over the cliff. In a combative response, Number Ten said this afternoon that: ‘We will not under any circumstances have a second referendum’ That may be true. But if you won’t, Prime Minister, others are ready to do so. It would be a fool’s errand to predict the outcome of this horrendous political mess. But a storm is surely coming.