DAN HODGES: My advice to Boris? Don't let Remainers in your Cabinet!
By Dan Hodges For The Mail On Sunday
14 July 2019
A few days ago, a Tory MP recounted a conversation he'd had with Boris Johnson
. 'I went in, sat down, and he said, 'Right, what job would you like in my Government?' So I gave him a few suggestions, he scribbled them down, then said, 'Right, leave it with me.' And that was it. I got up and left.'
This is how Boris is managing the fragile, if expansive, egos of his parliamentary colleagues. By offering everything and promising nothing.
Government talks: Amber Rudd says she is 'not someone who sways in the wind' but Hodges contests that and compares her to Mary Poppins
'It's incredible the number of people who think they're going to be in the Cabinet just because they've told Boris what job they want,' another MP tells me.
The Tory leadership election is not yet over, but jockeying for position in a Johnson administration has already begun. And no one has shown themselves to be in possession of sharper elbows than Amber Rudd.
Asked last week if she could serve under Boris, the Work and Pensions Secretary – who has been implacably opposed to him and his proposal of leaving with a No Deal Brexit on October 31 – responded: 'If I want to deliver on improving people's lives then I have got to get on and do that. If the party chooses Boris then I will try to make that work.'
She added: 'I am not someone who swings in the wind.'
Rudd has been swinging in the wind so much she's started to resemble Mary Poppins. But in doing so, she's highlighted the first major dilemma that will confront Prime Minister Johnson.
Is his best strategy for delivering Brexit to surround himself with senior Ministers who reflect a range of opinions? Or should he follow the advice of the ERG and erect a 'ring of steel' to protect his strategy from the Remainers?
THOUGH in reality, there is no dilemma at all. Boris's first major political decision upon entering No 10 is a straightforward one. He must appoint an unashamedly, unambiguously, unimpeachably pro-Brexit Cabinet.
Not least because, in doing so, he will save the Remainers from themselves. Amber Rudd is one of the most able and effective members of the Government. But her contortions over the past few days have made her look utterly ridiculous.
Friends claim her dramatic volte-face on Boris and Brexit is simply a pragmatic response to an alteration of circumstance. 'When the facts change, then your opinions have to change,' an ally says. 'The situation Amber was facing in March is very different to the situation she's facing now.'
Jockeying for position: Amber Rudd said if the party chooses Boris then 'I will try to make that work'
Perhaps. But it's no different to the situation on June 2, when she wrote: 'We need to start being honest. We are not leaving on October 31 with a deal – Parliament will block a No Deal Brexit and there isn't time to do a revised deal… a new Prime Minister should seize the opportunity to sit down with the new EU Commissioner on November 1 and negotiate a new deal for Britain.'
Rudd and her anti-No Deal colleagues can deliver as many impassioned soliloquies as they like about their obligation to engineer meaningful change from within government. But if they spend the next four months collaborating with the No Deal Brexit they've so vigorously opposed, they'll soon become as morally and politically bankrupt as their Labour counterparts who spent the week mouthing empty platitudes about anti-Semitism.
There is also a practical reason why Boris needs to entrust Brexit to his fellow Brexiteers.
If he doesn't, his administration will rapidly suffer the same backbiting and infighting that consumed Theresa May. As a No 10 aide observes: 'One of the most soul-destroying things was the way people got out of their bunkers just long enough to trigger Article 50, then jumped straight back and started blasting away at each other. Amber was a big part of that. If Boris tries the same approach, with another supposedly balanced team, the same thing will happen to him.'
There is one final, compelling reason why Boris must resist the urge to construct his own 'team of rivals'. October 31 must be the date when – for good or ill – the Brexiteers finally take ownership of Brexit.
The forever-war between those members of the Cabinet who wish to bulldoze their way out of the EU, and those who wish to tiptoe out, must finally end. Mrs May tried compromise and conciliation. It ended up destroying her, and almost destroying her Government.
Boris's election has to bring closure to the debate about how to deliver on the referendum result.
He ran – and will be elected – on a hard-Brexit platform.
Now he must govern on a hard-Brexit platform.
He must put Brexiteers in each of the key offices of State. He must stick with messianic vigour to his exit date. And he must ensure those charged with implementing Brexit policy do so because they believe in it, not because they are prepared to tolerate it as the price for a red box and a ministerial car.
There are signs he recognises this. 'There has been a refreshing outbreak of common sense,' a member of his team observed wryly when asked about Amber Rudd's Damascene conversion.
Allies say he remains wary of rewarding her with one of the major offices of State. And while there is talk of building a broad coalition across the party and country, they are unequivocal in stating 'a prerequisite for being a member of a Boris Cabinet is you must believe in his Brexit policy'.
That might sound harsh but it's how things have to be.
The time for compromise is over. October 31 must mark the final moment of decision. Even more importantly, it must be the moment of vindication. Someone has to win now. And someone has to lose.
Boris has said his hard-Brexit approach will deliver a deal. He has pledged to leave without one if it cannot be secured. We must see if he is right. And if he and the other hard-Brexiteers have been right, or wrong, all along.
Brexit is their crusade, not Amber Rudd's. And we have reached the point where they – and they alone – must deliver it.
Build that ring of steel, Boris. Build it strong and build it high.