It has just been announced that Prime Minister May has appointed Boris Johnson as Foreign Minister. Reactions are not positive – see Mike Smithson, Gareth Harding, David Rennie, Antonia Mochan, Jeremy Cliffe. And I agree it’s going to look awful and indeed be awful. Johnson was already a laughing stock across Europe and beyond during the Brexit referendum, his stock sank further in the immediate aftermath, and the idea of him representing the UK on the international stage fills me with dread.
However I’d actually go so far as to see this as a brilliant and clever appointment, and actually the best way to stop Brexit happening.
This is especially the case if – not yet confirmed at the time of writing – Chris Grayling (note: now confirmed as David Davis – see note below!) also gets a Brexit-negotiating role. Grayling made a complete hash of reforming the UK justice system, so much they needed Michael Gove (yes, Gove!) to come and clear it up. He was like a bull in a china shop in Brussels when negotiating the Data Protection Regulation. Put that together with Johnson’s sketchy grasp of detail, and temptation to exaggerate and lie, and you have the Brexit negotiations disaster team.
Put it another way: Johnson was in favour of Brexit, but never assumed it would actually happen, but now he has to help deliver it – but his heart is not in it, and he does not have the skills or energy to do it either. But he could not turn down such a high profile role now May offered it to him. Give it a couple of years, perhaps less, and Boris will have to be shifted to another position in government with the Brexit negotiations in tatters, and with UK public opinion having shifted towards Remain as the promise of Brexit recedes. Other comments fit into this pattern – May did not need to say today that she is a unionist, but chose to do so. She also emphasised the economic unity of the UK.
So cover your ears, world. Boris Johnson as Foreign Minister might be the necessary price to pay for keeping the UK in the EU.
(Oh and for those of you thinking this is ludicrous – I read the Boris and Brexit thing right in March!)
UPDATE – 13.06.2016, 2130 – turns out it’s David Davis who will be in charge of Brexit. He’s more capable than Grayling, but is a hard liner, which makes it also likely he will be setup to fail. So I think the gist of the above still stands. And can Davis and Johnson even get along?
UPDATE – 13.06.2016, 2145 – more on David Davis and Brexit from Conservative Home here (written 2 days ago), and it also seems Angela Merkel might be getting a visit. Steve Peers also rightly points out it seems he doesn’t understand how trade deals work either.