Boris Johnson has been down in the mouth in recent months. The ‘old Boris’ appeared to have been worn down by the cares of the office. Also, for a politician who loves to be loved, it has been difficult adjusting to his more divisive post-referendum status. But today was far more of the old Boris. He returned to his 2016 case for Brexit in a speech that was full of his trademark optimism and humour, including a slightly off-colour joke about dogging.
Today had been billed as Boris reaching out to the 48 per cent—and there was a bit of that. But the real audience for this speech were the fellow members of the Brexit inner Cabinet. Boris made quite clear that the idea of the UK being a rule taker in large sectors of the economy to minimise friction in trade was unacceptable to him. ‘Intolerable’ and undemocratic’ were two of the choicer words he used to describe it.
As I say in the magazine out tomorrow, what Boris was trying to do was kybosh the idea of the UK continuing to follow EU rules on manufactured goods while it diverges on services. This is where several members of the Brexit inner Cabinet thought the government was heading at the end of last week.
There was, though, one possible hint of where there might be room for compromise. In answer to a question from the Sun’s Tom Newton Dunn, Boris said that he would be fine with the UK choosing to stay aligned with EU rules on things such as washing machines for the sake of supply chains and the like. What he said he objected to was the idea of the UK making a treaty commitment to do that. Overall, though, his speech was a reminder of how hard it will be for Theresa May to get the Brexit inner Cabinet to an agreed position.