• The way in which debate about the Brexit negotiation is increasingly framed is as follows: a deal will be a success for Britain, and no deal will be a failure – if not a disaster.
  • This site has heard claims during the last few days that Boris Johnson believes that this framing is bad for the Conservatives (since a fully-fledged trade may not be agreed by April 2019) and worse for the country.
  • Boiled down to its essence, the message of his 4000 or so word-long article in today’s Daily Telegraph is: such a deal is desirable, but not essential; Britain can flourish under WTO.
  • His cover is Theresa May’s Lancaster House speech of January, which he praises – and in which, remember, she said that “no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain”.
  • The Foreign Secretary returns to and develops his referendum campaign case for spending £350 million a week post-Brexit on the NHS.  The new gloss is that “a lot” of that sum should be spent in this way.
  • He also takes a swipe at Philip Hammond’s Treasury, writing that it “has not so far [our italics] sought to punish the British people with an emergency budget”.
  • He also says that “we would not expect to pay for access to [the EU 27s] markets”.  This signal that he opposes payments even during an interim period is backed up by James Forsyth in the Sun.
  • And he floats a flotilla of prospective new policies, including cutting VAT on tampons, simplifying  the planning system to build more homes, and taxing foreign buyers of property in London.
  • Since Number 10 will not have approved this wave-making manifesto – it isn’t denying that it saw the article only shortly before publication – the question arises: what is Johnson up to?
  • An easy answer is: a bid to destabilise May, create the circumstances for a leadership election, win it – and become Prime Minister.
  • This take is credible. May has downgraded his department, role and status.  His survey ratings on this site are at their lowest ever.  Jacob Rees-Mogg is the activists’ new darling.  Time to act – before any reshuffle.
  • The Telegraph’s presentation boosts this view.  “At last, a positive and bold vision for Brexit,” it says.  “Boris…must challenge May,” writes Tim StanleyCharles Moore asks if it’s “time for new leadership”.
  • Another interpretation is that the Foreign Secretary’s move is more impulsive than deliberate. Downing Street is not denying claims that the article is a speech which it barred him from giving early next week.
  • According to this version of events, a frustrated Johnson, chafing from the chains that bind him, has broken loose – and given the speech to his chief Fleet Street backer, for which he columnised for so long.
  • Either way, the Foreign Secretary knows the way in which the Westminster Village works well enough to understand that his article will be read as a leadership bid – whatever his intentions.
  • It will strike a chord with some Brexit-enthusiastic Party members and Conservative MPs, who will greet Johnson’s upbeat, swashbuckling, optimistic vision of Britain’s prospects with enthusiasm.
  • More, however, have rallied behind May as the best bulwark against an early election which Jeremy Corbyn might win. Some will now want the Foreign Secretary fired for destabilising her, as they see it.
  • Furthermore, and whatever his intentions, Johnson’s timing could scarcely be worse – coming the day after mass terror casualties were apparently averted, and the alert level has been raised to critical.
  • Additionally, May is set to make a major speech on Brexit and the negotiation in Florence next Friday: he has just cut across it.
  • Finally, Party Conference is less than a month off, and the Foreign Secretary has just chucked a massive spanner into its collective works – while thrusting himself centre-stage.
  • The critical view of Johnson is well-known: a man who puts his personal ambition above his Party’s interests – and his country’s.  That his case has merit will do nothing to quell it.

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