Boris Johnson’s rather bold move on the customs partnership hasn’t yet landed him in trouble, even though it has enraged some of his pro-Remain colleagues. At the Number 10 lobby briefing today, the Prime Minister’s spokesman avoided giving the Foreign Secretary a slap down when asked whether Theresa May was happy that he had told the Mail that the customs partnership plan was ‘crazy’. Instead, the spokesman used the sort of formula of words that declines to offer any sort of comment on anything at all:
‘There are two customs models that were first put forward by the government last August, and most recently they were outlined in the Prime Minister’s Mansion House speech, which the entire cabinet was signed up to. Following last week’s cabinet serb-committee meeting, it was agreed that there are unresolved issues in relation to both models and that further work is needed.’
Boris has been long known to be deeply concerned about the direction in which Theresa May is heading on Brexit. But his interview with the Mail today goes far beyond the usual briefings from ‘friends of’ the minister. It would be an extraordinary thing for a Secretary of State to do in a normal government context, but this is not a normal government context. Boris seems to have a similar reading of the situation as those ministers who challenged May at the Brexit War Cabinet last week: that there is very little to be lost in standing up to the Prime Minister, whether in a private meeting or in the pages of a newspaper.
May isn’t exactly helping matters by postponing discussions on the customs union for as long as possible. James has reported the months of delays to even sitting down and talking about Britain’s future relationship with the EU, and now as the time approaches for a solid decision on what that relationship will look like, the Prime Minister has given ministers another week to mull the customs partnership. She might perhaps have hoped that this means her Cabinet will consider the issue with cool heads. Instead, the endless delays are having the same effect on ministers as being stuck in an endless queue has on lorry drivers at a port: everyone is just getting angrier.