Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
  2. UK Politics
9 October 2017

Can Theresa May really sack Boris Johnson?

Outside the Foreign Office, he would have the freedom to be unhelpful in domestic policy as well.

By Stephen Bush

“A change of nuisance,” David Lloyd George once quipped, “is as good as a vacation”. Theresa May might be inclined to agree. The collapse of Grant Shapps’ plot to remove her has strengthened her hand as she contemplates a reshuffle.

The big question is what happens to Boris Johnson, whose future is in doubt after the PM told the Sunday Times that “it has never been my style to hide from a challenge and I’m not going to start now”. Furious allies of the Foreign Secretary have briefed the Sun and the Telegraph that he will “just say no” should the PM attempt to move him. (For his part, Johnson has denied that these stories have appeared on his behalf in a WhatsApp message leaked to Guido Fawkes. Well, he would, wouldn’t he?)

Is Johnson off? The difficulty for the PM is that freed from the Foreign Office, Johnson will have the freedom to be unhelpful in domestic policy as well. What’s the betting that the moment he is freed from the bounds of office, he discovers that Universal Credit is fundamentally flawed or that Philip Hammond’s deficit reduction timetable is too tight?

Speaking of the Chancellor, he and his department are under fire for “making Brexit hard”. Writing in the Guardian, Tory MP Bernard Jenkin has accused the Treasury of allying with the CBI, the City of London and EU to make Brexit “difficult [and] damaging”.

The thing about sacking Johnson is that it only makes sense if the PM plans to use it to inject a note of sense into the Brexit talks, perhaps by reminding the frothier members of her parliamentary party that removing oneself from a four-decade membership of a trade bloc is difficult regardless of whether or not Treasury mandarins break into a rendition of “Everything is Awesome” every morning at 8am sharp. Or if, instead of pledging money to prepare for “no deal”, concede that “no deal” is a fantasy that can’t be achieved.

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. A handy, three-minute glance at the week ahead in companies, markets, regulation and investment, landing in your inbox every Monday morning. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A weekly dig into the New Statesman’s archive of over 100 years of stellar and influential journalism, sent each Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
I consent to New Statesman Media Group collecting my details provided via this form in accordance with the Privacy Policy

That, as the Times reports, she is instead planning to tell the EU27 that the ball is in their court shows that regardless of whom she sacks, come the crunch, the PM will always side with the loudest voices in her party – that is to say, she will always opt for a Brexit as hard and as damaging as possible.