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Jo Johnson’s wise and courageous choice

by Hugo Dixon | 05.09.2019

Rarely has an MP wrestled with a dilemma as acute as Boris Johnson’s younger brother. He is wisely and courageously putting the national interest above blind loyalty to the prime minister.

Jo Johnson tweeted this morning: “In recent weeks I’ve been torn between family loyalty and the national interest – it’s an unresolvable tension & time for others to take on my roles as MP & Minister. Over and out.”

In time, this may be seen as the moment when Boris Johnson’s premiership fell apart. Shakespeare’s words about Brutus and Julius Caesar come to mind: “This was the most unkindest cut of all… Then burst his mighty heart.”

Although Jo’s resignation is a massive blow to his brother, this was not treachery. I have known both brothers for almost half a century. Boris is one of my oldest friends. I recruited Jo to the Financial Times 20 years ago.

As I said in an open letter to Boris in the Guardian just before he became prime minister: “True friendship, perhaps, is being loyal – and not joining in the attacks on your character I see everywhere today. But it’s not blind loyalty. It’s helping a friend achieve what’s really in their interests even if that’s not what they want.

“Is it really in your interest to crash out of the EU without a deal? … How will it help you if our proud nation is bullied in turns by America, China, Russia and the EU – and we have to suck up to Donald Trump because we’re so desperate and friendless?.. The only explanation I can give is that you have a tiger by the tail and can’t let go.”

In the last two months the tiger has dragged Boris deeper into the heart of darkness. The tiger also has a name: Dominic Cummings, the prime minister’s ruthless advisor. He seems to be behind the extreme tactics of suspending Parliament and purging the Conservative Party of moderate MPs such as Philip Hammond and Nicholas Soames, one of Winston Churchill’s grandsons.

Does Cummings even have Boris’ deepest interests at heart? I doubt it. We know that Boris was never sure about Brexit. For the hardliners, he is a useful idiot. So long as he gets them their Brexit, it really doesn’t matter if he’s broken and tossed aside.

For all the talks that Cummings is a strategic genius, his extreme tactics aren’t even working. They have enraged moderate MPs – including, it seems, Jo. This can’t have been part of the masterplan.

On Rob Peston’s ITV show last night – after he had suffered three Commons defeats in two days – Boris looked deflated and lacking in conviction. After Jo’s resignation, it is hard to see where he goes. 

Boris has vowed never to ask the EU for extra time. But Parliament is about to pass a law requiring him to do just that. And many Labour MPs realise it is better to force him to stew in his own juice rather than give him the escape hatch of an early election.

Unless Jeremy Corbyn makes a terrible strategic error, Boris will have three options – all deeply unpalatable: break the new law, be humiliated by complying with it or resign. 

It’s hard to know what’s in his best interests now. Brutus fell on his sword. Jo has done that today. Perhaps Boris will also conclude that’s the only noble way out.

6 Responses to “Jo Johnson’s wise and courageous choice”

  • I had a friend who voted for Brexit for purely xenophobic reasons. He is a friend no longer. My point is probably obvious, why is Johnson still a friend?

  • I am not sure that it is helpful, Rod, to even ask such questions. What is admirable is the decision that Jo Johnson has taken today. I was very disappointed that he felt he was able to reintegrate the government after having resigned from Mrs May’s cabinet specifically over the Brexit issue which he called a tragic mistake at the time.

    I would that other conservative MP’s were as honest and courageous. I can only hope that the country will be able to use Jo Johnson’s obvious qualities at some time in the not too distant future in an appropriate position.

    I am also wondering whether a new offence should not now be introduced ” of bringing politicics into disrepute ? ” The members of the present government would all stand convicted under this offense.

  • Jo should have known better than to accept his brother’s invitation to join the cabinet. It smelt of nepotism. I was goggled eyed the moment B Johnson learned he had beaten Hunt to become PM. There was Jo, Dad, and Rachel in the audience. They all warmly congratulated him especially Rachel. That puzzled me because she states she is a Remainer and has written a column in ‘The New European’. But she also vehemently defended her oafish brother when he issued the ‘running through the cornfield’ photo which was meant to mock Teresa May. I never read Rachel’s stuff because I don’t trust her. Two-faced in my opinion. Dad Johnson must have known that chaos was about to happen because he went to Australia to get out of the way. What a very strange family. Boris thinks he is PM by entitlement and gives not one jot for the law, rules or those who disagree with him. He is recklessly ruthless, lazy, rude, arrogant and crude. Jo appears to be milder and more considerate. How he tolerates his brother I do not know. If Boris was my brother I would have cut him adrift a long time ago and disowned him – family or not.
    I concur with Rod Coates (above). I do not wish to know any of my acquaintances who voted leave for reasons such as ‘we won the war and do not want the EU telling us what to do’. I have stated I am a Remainer in public houses and met with abuse and xenophobic ‘reasoning’. Brexit has driven a wedge into British society and the tension is stifling us.
    We must stop Brexit even if it is just to save many Leavers from themselves. Many voted thus without having a clue about the consequences. The reason is that they have never taken an interest in politics and voted on impulse. People who say we should get on with it because they are fed up with Brexit clearly have no understanding of the issue.

  • Hugo,

    Once again a good article. However ………

    You write:
    “True friendship, perhaps, is being loyal – and not joining in the attacks on your character I see everywhere today”

    You stated that Boris has been your friend for 25 years. Then you say:

    “For the hardliners, he is a useful idiot.”

    Are you not attacking your friend of 25 years?

    I’m afraid I don’t understand.

  • Are there actually any sane people left in bojos cabinet now ? or are they all Cummings things ? This is what happens when you surround yourself with “advisors” who have their own agenda – it was the same with Thatcher.

    I understand the latest report is that he may actually disobey the new law. Now what would happen then ? Would he be arrested ? Or removed from No 10 by force ?

    I really do not understand why leaving without a deal has now become an article of faith among certain leavers, without, for a moment, reflecting on WHY ? It is like the Holy Inquisition burning people at the stake in direct contravention of JC’ s teaching of love and tolerance.

  • To NJ
    I don’t think Hugo is necessarily attacking Boris here, is he? It is the hardliners warped opinion of Boris that he’s quoting, not his own.