Boris Johnson did not launch a full-on attack on Theresa May in his resignation speech. But he was brutally critical of the Chequers plan, saying that in crucial respects it was ‘Brexit in name only’. He complained that since the Lancaster House speech ‘a fog of self-doubt has descended’ and that the UK never even attempted to turn that speech into a negotiating position. He said that ‘18 months of stealthy retreat’ had led the UK to its current predicament.
In a speech shorn of his usual jokes, the former Foreign Secretary urged Theresa May to change course, to return to Lancaster House. He said that there was ‘still time to save Brexit’. He also, implicitly, took issue with Michael Gove and his hedgers, who believe that the best thing to do is to ensure that Britain legally leaves the EU and then try and fix things from there.
He said that ‘it is absolute nonsense to imagine, as I fear some of my colleagues do, that we can somehow afford to make a botched treaty now, and then break and reset the bone later on. Because we have seen, even in these talks, how the supposedly provisional becomes eternal.’
This speech will certainly make it harder for Downing Street to sell Chequers to the Tory rank and file. What Boris Johnson said about it, is what they worry about.
I still suspect, though, that the next big Tory fight about Brexit will come in the autumn when the EU come back asking for more concessions.