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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.

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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. 

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