Late yesterday evening, as a rowdy but half-empty House of Commons debated the Prime Minister’s motion to hold a general election after a long day of voting, there was one MP sitting alone in the very back corner of the government benches. Looking pale and tired, he stared into space, lost deep in his own thoughts. “Jo Johnson looks like a ghost,” I remarked to the person beside me in the gallery.
This morning, just hours later, Johnson made the shock announcement that he would be quitting as a Cabinet minister in his brother’s government, and would be standing down as MP for Orpington at the next election. “In recent weeks I’ve been torn between family loyalty and the national interest,” he writes in a statement, making no secret of what has been weighing on him. “It’s an unresolvable tension and time for others to take on my roles as MP and Minister.” He concludes the statement with a simple hashtag: “over and out.”
It is the latest addition to our rich recent history of political brothers, and a fascinating human story in the ongoing Brexit deadlock. The younger Johnson voted remain and has previously said that a no-deal Brexit would “inflict untold damage on our nation”. He resigned from May’s government in November 2018 in opposition to the Withdrawal Agreement, even attending People’s Vote rallies.
He then, however, took on a new job in his brother’s cabinet when Boris Johnson became Prime Minister in July, which involved signing up to its strategy of Brexit, “do or die” by October 31, even with no deal.
Clearly, the internal strain has been too much for Jo Johnson, as colleagues opposed to No Deal vote against the government and lose the party whip, while his brother pursues a potential No Deal.
Jo Johnson will know that his resignation creates a news line from hell: the first to resign from Boris Johnson’s new cabinet is his own brother.
As we approach an inevitable general election, Jo Johnson has handed Jeremy Corbyn an obvious and brutal attack line : that even Boris Johnson’s own brother doesn’t trust him.