Mr Johnson and Chancellor Philip Hammond – who have been at loggerheads all summer over Brexit – emerged from the meeting side by side
Boris Johnson gave his seal of approval to Theresa May’s landmark Brexit address last night as she promised a ‘bright future’ for Britain outside of the EU.
The Foreign Secretary said ‘it is gonna be a great speech’ after a two-and-a-half hour Cabinet meeting designed to tie ministers to the Prime Minister’s Brexit vision.
In her speech today, Mrs May will hail Britain’s ‘exceptional national talent for creativity and an indomitable spirit’ as she insists the country will thrive away from the Brussels bloc.
She will cite the UK’s ‘considerable’ strengths, including an ‘enthusiasm for innovation; an ease of doing business’ and some of the best universities in the world.
Her optimism appeared to have won the backing of all wings of her Cabinet, as Mr Johnson and Chancellor Philip Hammond – who have been at loggerheads all summer over Brexit – emerged from the meeting side by side.
After a reporter shouted, ‘Is he your new best friend?’, both men -–who will today flank the Prime Minister in Florence along with Brexit Secretary David Davis and Home Secretary Amber Rudd – smiled.
Mr Johnson appeared to have blown the Prime Minister’s preparations for the speech off course last week by setting out his own upbeat Brexit plan in a 4,200-word newspaper article.
It was suggested he felt compelled to offer an optimistic vision of Britain’s life outside the EU.
Mr Johnson and Mr Harris will today flank the Prime Minister in Florence along with Brexit Secretary David Davis (left) and Home Secretary Amber Rudd (right)
Over the course of an extraordinary few days, Mr Johnson was then forced to deny he was planning to resign if he did not get his way over his demands that Britain should stop handing big sums to Brussels.
Although he later backed away from the brink, the Foreign Secretary last night appeared to have helped force Mrs May to strike a positive tone in today’s address.
Mrs May gathered her ministers in Downing Street to brief them on the speech in a special session of the Cabinet after flying back from the UN General Assembly in New York.
Scottish Secretary David Mundell was the only minister not to attend, as he is on a trade visit to Argentina
After they arrived at 10am, ministers were given half an hour to read Mrs May’s 5,000-word speech, before she joined them to chair the extraordinarily long meeting.
Each minister was given the chance to speak, with the whole Cabinet in attendance, except for Scottish Secretary David Mundell who was on a trade visit to Argentina.
A source said: ‘It was all very positive. Everybody had their say on the speech and the whole room welcomed the optimistic tone of the speech. Everybody seemed to leave content.’
Another source said ministers had shown their approval of the speech by banging on the desk as the meeting was drawn to a close.
Work and Pensions Secretary David Gauke said ministers were ‘very united, very good, all behind the speech’. Asked whether Mrs May had the support of the Foreign Secretary, he said: ‘She has the backing of the Cabinet, from all of us.’
Over the course of the summer, ministers had been divided between those such as Mr Hammond who favour a Swiss-style deal in which Britain would continue to pay for access to the single market, and those such as Mr Johnson, who want a looser arrangement along the lines of the EU’s free trade agreement with Canada.
But Mrs May has sought to bridge the gap, insisting it is not a ‘binary’ choice and she would be seeking a ‘bespoke’ arrangement rather than a pre-existing, ‘off-the-shelf’ model.
The historic venue where Galileo was branded a heretic
It was the church where Galileo was accused of heresy for daring to challenge the traditional view of the world four centuries ago.
Today the basilica Santa Maria Novella in Florence will host Theresa May as she sets out her vision of Britain’s future to European leaders.
Her decision to speak on the continent is designed to show that, although Britain is leaving the EU, it is not leaving Europe.
The choice of Florence is symbolic – as is the church.
The basilica Santa Maria Novella in Florence will host Theresa May as she sets out her vision of Britain’s future to European leaders
The city was the cradle of the Renaissance while the church was at the heart of a debate about the new ideas unleashed during the period.
Galileo Galilei (pictured), the father of modern science, was denounced from the pulpit in 1614 for daring to suggest the Earth orbited the Sun.
The astronomer and mathematician was eventually found ‘suspect of heresy’ and kept under house arrest from 1633 until his death in 1642. The church contains priceless works by artists including Vasari, Botticelli, Brunelleschi, Ghirlandaio, Masaccio and Uccello.
Mrs May’s choice of Florence will also appeal to those in the EU who most support Britain’s views. The EU is unpopular in the city and many of its citizens support Britain’s decision to leave.
Downing St has not yet confirmed the venue of the speech.
Why this picture of unity should fool no one: ANDREW PIERCE reveals the simmering cabinet feuds behind the spin
Boris Johnson and Philip Hammond left yesterday’s marathon special Cabinet meeting side by side in a carefully choreographed display of unity.
Smiling for the battery of cameras outside No 10, the Foreign Secretary and the Chancellor even exchanged a few words, giving every appearance of being good friends or at least amiable colleagues.
They’re not. They continue to loathe each other.
The photo opportunity, dreamed up no doubt by government spin doctors after a riotous week of Tory in-fighting, chaos, rumours of sackings, resignations and leadership bids, should fool no one.
Johnson and Hammond (pictured at a Tory party conference) have been at war for the past 12 months – and they continue to loathe each other
Johnson and Hammond have been at war for the past 12 months over the terms of our exit from the EU, and that hasn’t changed.
During the two-and-a-half-hour Cabinet meeting to discuss the Prime Minister’s keynote speech on the EU – to be delivered in Florence today – the bitter row triggered by Johnson’s passionately argued 4,200-word manifesto in The Daily Telegraph last week for a clean Brexit, with no ‘divorce payment’, was virtually ignored.
In her opening remarks, Mrs May made only a glancing reference to the need for ministers to be more cautious about what they said in public.
She and Johnson had already kissed and made up on the seven-hour flight back from New York, where they had been attending the United Nations General Assembly.
The Foreign Secretary has now accepted a two-year transition deal costing £20 billion, if it leads to a complete break with the EU.
Mrs May and Johnson (pictured together) had already kissed and made up on the seven-hour flight back from UN summit in New York
David Davis, the Brexit Secretary who like Mrs May and the rest of the Cabinet, learned of Johnson’s article just minutes before publication, spoke after the PM. ‘He was a model of geniality,’ said one source. ‘But we know he was secretly still seething with Boris. His article suggests to the EU that he can’t deliver a united Cabinet, let alone a united Parliament when negotiating a deal.’
And as for the Chancellor? He was conspicuously on message with Mrs May, racing through his comments on her speech. But no doubt he was seething, too.
In the immediate aftermath of publication, Johnson’s manifesto was reported as a direct challenge to the authority of the Prime Minister ahead of today’s speech.
In fact, what Johnson was doing was pointing his heavy artillery at Hammond and the Treasury, who he believes are deliberately talking down the advantages of Brexit.
‘It’s quite wrong to think it was an attack on the PM,’ a source close to Johnson told me. ‘Boris was aiming at the ghost of George Osborne [the former Chancellor, fervent Remainer and chief architect of ‘Project Fear’], whose spirit of doom and gloom still stalks every corridor and every meeting room at the Treasury.’
Conor Burns said it was long overdue for a minister to make the positive case for Brexit
Conor Burns, the Tory MP who is Johnson’s parliamentary private secretary, said it was long overdue for a minister to make the positive case for Brexit – and Boris was the man to make it. He added: ‘The Foreign Secretary is one of those rare politicians whose reach is huge, whose spirit is irrepressible and who has optimism built into his DNA.
‘It is no understatement to say that if pessimism were a disease, Boris Johnson would be immune. Like so many of us who campaigned for Britain to leave the EU last year, he doesn’t just respect the referendum result; he welcomes and embraces it.’ Those were carefully chosen words and a less-than-subtle criticism of Hammond, a Remainer who prefers a business-friendly, softer Brexit, with Britain staying close to the single market.
Burns perhaps also had in mind Home Secretary Amber Rudd, another Remainer who backs the Chancellor’s vision of Brexit. But while Hammond kept his counsel this week, Rudd has been a damning critic of Johnson, accusing him of being a ‘back-seat driver’.
In a carefully timed intervention yesterday, Mrs May’s former chief of staff Nick Timothy took aim at the Treasury, which ‘never even mentions the positives of leaving the EU’. Downing Street was alerted in advance of what Timothy was going to say.
Feelings are still running high. A second Treasury source remained scathing of Johnson.
‘He’s self-indulgent and divisive, and this was all about him trying to prove he still matters. He’s made a fool of himself, May hasn’t watered down her plans [following Johnson’s intervention], and she should have sacked him.’
This sorry episode of Cabinet in-fighting had, in truth, been weeks in the making. The seeds were sown last month when Johnson was the subject of a blistering attack by a columnist in the Remain-supporting Times newspaper.
Mrs May’s former chief of staff Nick Timothy (right) took aim at the Treasury, which ‘never even mentions the positives of leaving the EU’
‘Not a single foreign minister in Europe takes him seriously. He leaks information given to him confidentially by other governments,’ the well-sourced and hugely damaging article claimed.
Johnson was variously considered by EU states as being ‘totally unreliable’, a ‘liar’ and ‘dangerous’, it said. Boris was livid and proposed to answer his critics with his own keynote speech on Brexit. But Downing Street told him to delay it.
The official reason was that it would disrupt the Government’s painstakingly prepared grid of daily political initiatives. But the truth is more that No 10 feared Johnson would steal Mrs May’s thunder ahead of her appearances at the UN in New York and her speech in Florence.
‘The only way Theresa can rebuild her reputation after the general election shambles is on the international stage,’ one supporter told me. ‘Having lost her parliamentary majority, it’s almost impossible to be radical on domestic issues.
‘She is trying to project herself as an international stateswoman.’
But Johnson was still fuming, at both the personal attack in The Times, and Downing Street’s refusal to let him respond.
So he handed the script of a speech to the Telegraph, where he used to be a columnist. In the fallout, Mrs May was urged to sack Johnson. It was also widely reported that Johnson would quit if Mrs May did not adopt his vision of Brexit.
In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Johnson never contemplated resigning.
‘The reports he would quit were risible,’ said one source. ‘It was black propaganda put out by Johnson’s enemies to make him look less stable.’
That plan has certainly backfired. Johnson will appear alongside the Prime Minister and the Chancellor today when she makes her speech in Florence. Their double act is a clear sign he’s not planning to quit. In another significant development, it seems Environment Secretary Michael Gove has rediscovered his admiration for Johnson. Having been reported incorrectly as being ‘hostile’ to Johnson’s article, he subsequently tweeted his support. ‘Debate should be forward-looking on how to make most of life outside EU,’ he said.
It was also widely reported that Johnson would quit if Mrs May did not adopt his vision of Brexit, but nothing could be further from the truth
Gove has told friends he will work with Johnson to secure the best Brexit deal.
The Cabinet colleagues spoke at length on the telephone this week in the clearest sign that they have buried their differences, after Gove withdrew his support at the 11th hour for Johnson’s Tory leadership campaign last summer.
‘They want the same Brexit, and not a half-in-half-out Brexit, which is what Hammond wants by paying for us to remain in the single market,’ a friend said. ‘A Brexit which means Britain can pass its own laws and not be bossed around any more by the EU. Michael and Boris share that vision.’
Johnson’s appearance at the Tory party conference in Manchester next month will be even more keenly awaited than usual.
Much will depend on it. A poll on the ConservativeHome website this month of which minister party members want to be their next leader had Johnson relegated into fourth place. Jacob-Rees Mogg, dubbed the ‘MP for the 17th century’, was first on 23 per cent to Johnson’s 7 per cent.
Perhaps now, after his dramatic intervention in the Brexit debate, the Foreign Secretary – one-time darling of the Tory faithful – will be hoping he’ll be back at the top of the table.
But, surprise, Barnier renews his warning over £90bn ‘divorce bill’
THE EU’s chief Brexit negotiator last night issued a fresh warning to Britain to pay the so-called ‘divorce bill’ as he attempted to heap pressure on Theresa May before her speech today.
Michel Barnier also warned that Britain would be forced to keep its borders open to European migrants if it wanted a transition period after it leaves the bloc in March 2019.
Mr Barnier told Italian MPs in Rome that he could not understand why there was still uncertainty over the British positions on the Irish border, citizens’ rights and the Brexit bill of up to £90billion. He said: ‘I’m wondering why – beyond the progress we’ve made on certain points – there is still today major uncertainty on each of the key issues.’
Michel Barnier last night issued a fresh warning to Britain to pay the so-called ‘divorce bill’
He added: ‘All that is necessary in this negotiation is that everyone honours the commitments that they have made to each other. To settle the accounts. No more, no less.’ The former French minister warned that there were effectively only 12 months of the two-year negotiating process remaining, as six months had already elapsed and six months will be needed at the end to ratify the decision.
Ahead of Mrs May’s expected request for a transition period where trading ties are maintained, he said that during this time Britain would have to follow all EU rules, including on freedom of movement. He said: ‘If we are to extend for a limited period the [benefits] of the EU, then logically this would require existing Union regulatory, budgetary, supervisory, judiciary and enforcement instruments and structures to apply.’
Last night, Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg said Mr Barnier’s threats were ‘discourteous and tactically foolish’.