Boris Johnson has been accused of "backseat driving" on Brexit, while Theresa May is heading to Italy. Why she is going and who will prevail in a revenge battle with George Osborne is anybody's guess, says Barbara Wesel.
He has done it again. Boris Johnson wrote an article in The Telegraph and threw Prime Minister Theresa May's plans overboard in the process. In the week of her highly-anticipated speech on Brexit, it was the Foreign Secretary who dominated public discourse. To underline his heinous behavior, he only went and uttered once more his baseless claim that Britain would have 350 million pounds ($472 million, 396 million euros) per week to give to its underfinanced health service when it no longer has to send cash to Brussels. The claim was not true when it appeared on the Brexit campaign bus before the referendum and it is not true today. But who cares?
Well, the head of the statistics office, Sir David Norgrove, for one. He was "surprised and disappointed … about this clear misuse of official statistics." But Johnson remained undaunted. If he wants to sell a lie he will do so. He will not be denied by a mere public servant. But apart from this little spat, Boris proclaimed once more his undying love of Brexit: "I am here to tell you that this country will succeed in our new national enterprise, and it will succeed mightily." Indeed.
Johnson of course is not in love with things like transition periods and money to be paid to the EU, much to the frustration of the PM's inner circle. "He challenged [her] authority, but if she were to sack him, the careful equilibrium she has set up since the election would collapse." That was how the Guardian described the predicament of May, who lacks her own majority in parliament.
So Home Secretary Amber Rudd had to go on TV to discipline her errant colleague, albeit very mildly: "Boris is an important part of the cabinet, adding enthusiasm, energy and entertainment," she said. Rudd did not deny the allegation, however, that Johnson was backseat driving and insisted that it was the prime minister and nobody else steering the car into Brexit. With friends like Boris Johnson, who need enemies?
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Florence with a view
Why Theresa May chose Florence for her great Brexit speech was never really explained. Was it because the renaissance city is at the center of European culture and a historic trading hub? Or did the Prime Minister just seek "A room with a view" for her speech, channeling E.M. Fosters early 20th century romance novel set in the Italian tourist mecca? Perhaps was she attracted by the great citizens of Florence like Botticelli, Leonardo, Galileo and, of course, Machiavelli?
The latter is clearly the city's most infamous son and a byword for ruthless power politics. The Florentine thinker is often misquoted and never wrote that the end justifies the means, he was more subtle than that. But he did say that if a politician had to choose between love and fear "it is far safer to be feared than loved." Not a helpful hint for May because she seems too disagreeable for love and is too weak to be feared.
But Machiavelli also admonishes rulers to consider the facts informing their decisions. A lesson the prime minister may have understood after the recent deadlock in Brexit talks. She is expected to talk about a lengthy transition period for Britain after March 2019 and her willingness to pay into the EU budget during that time.
Theresa May will probably reiterate that Britain leaving the EU will not mean leaving Europe and that it still wants a deep and special relationship. The PM sometimes sounds like a broken record. But May will try to open doors for compromise and restart Brexit negotiations. She could, of course, have done all this from Downing Street, but we should not begrudge her a little trip to Italy. Particularly as they sell nice shoes in Florence.
A dish best served cold
The feud between former Finance Minister George Osborne and Theresa May is said to date back to when both were serving in David Cameron's cabinet. Osborne had mercilessly shown up his colleague when, as home secretary, she could not recall immigration statistics. May was deeply humiliated and never forgave him. When in the summer of 2016 she unexpectedly became prime minister, May seized the opportunity for revenge. The country watched on as a dejected looking George Osborne slunk past the cameras, entered 10 Downing Street and emerged 10 minutes later, looking pale and stricken. May had sacked him without further ado.
Since then, Osborne has been hell-bent on revenge. His new position as editor of the Evening Standard should help him. The Russian-owned free newspaper is read by every London commuter. What a stage to impress on May the power of the media. She was a "dead woman walking," he wrote after the election debacle. And he didn't stop there. "I will not rest until she is chopped up in bags in my freezer," he is alleged to have said in recent days.
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Another exit from DExEU
The Department for Exiting the European Union has been bleeding civil servants. Staff are leaving Brexit minister David Davis faster than new ones can be hired. The latest deserter is Ollie Robbins, Britain's top negotiator and Sherpa to Theresa May.
Only a few days ago, he kept the Downing Street press pack entertained by openly carrying a draft of her Florence speech across the street for everyone to read. Only the headline was visible, just a bit of innocent fun.
Now he has relocated to Number 10 in order to support May and get away from Davis. It is said that they did not see eye to eye.
His star rose and fell during the course of the summer. Jacob Rees-Mogg, also known as the honorable member for the 18th Century, was shortly named as a possible contender for the prime minister's job. That cloud seems to have passed, but he continues to be one of the few Tories batting for Boris Johnson:
Only to be pulled down to earth by one of London's best satirical minds
Remember though, Brexit is real life, not "Game of Thrones."