Lord Heseltine (left)) had already during the EU referendum campaign, described some of Boris Johnson’s comments as “obscene” and suggested they threatened his chance of being Conservative leader. Today, the former Conservative deputy Prime Minister and minister in Margaret Thatcher’s governments went much further and has joined in the anger being expressed towards Boris Johnson for his role in the UK’s decision to vote Leave in the EU referendum. After Michael Gove announced this morning that he would run against Johnson for the leadership of the Conservative Party, despite being a former supporter of Boris, it was curtains for Boris Johnson who quickly announced he would withdraw from the leadership race. Michael Gove’s attack on Johnson was significant in Johnson’s decision, and has encouraged others to join in. Lord Heseltine, formerly Michael Heseltine, was scathing – accusing Johnson of having “ripped apart” the Conservative party through the EU referendum campaign and said he must now “live with the shame of what he’s done”.
Heseltine told BBC Radio 5Live:
“There will be a profound sense of dismay and frankly contempt. […] He’s ripped the party apart. He’s created the greatest constitutional crisis of modern times. He knocked billions off the value of the nation’s savings. […] He’s like a general who leads his army to the sound of guns and at the sight of the battlefield abandoned the field. I have never seen so contemptible and irresponsible a situation. […] This is a free society; there’s no question of punishment. He must live with the shame of what he’s done. […] Boris Johnson is the one who won the referendum. […] Without him it would not have happened. Without him there would be none of this uncertainty, and he’s abandoned the field. […] Quite interesting, actually, one of the allegations upon which the referendum was conducted is that there is an elite group in this country who are out of touch. Well, it’s that elite group that now has to pick up the pieces of Britain’s self-interest while Boris Johnson abandons any sense of responsibility for what he’s done.” (watch his comments)
Others are joining in the Boris-bashing. The Home Secretary Theresa May (above), in a speech before Johnson’s withdrawal, used the chance to take a dig at him when she said that “this isn’t a game,” and that she would be focusing on “serious social reform.” Ed Vaisey MP said of Michael Gove’s decision to run and criticise Johnson:
“He was ready to back Boris, but the closer it got, the harder he thought about it. He thought, it’s not the right person. […] Follow that through to its conclusion: the logic is, if he doesn’t think Boris can do it, he has to step up to the plate and do it.”
Meanwhile, Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, who originally backed Johnson and will now support Gove, said of Gove’s choice to stand: “to declare your candidature in opposition to a friend” is a difficult thing to do, but that if Gove believed he was the right person for the job, he had “a duty to stand.” Rees-Mogg made no comment on Boris Johnson directly, but said that he thought the reaction around Gove’s decision to stand and Johnson’s decision to quit was getting “too hyperbolic.” Eric Pickles MP joined the conversation, saying that he was supporting Theresa May as she could stand up for everyone. He added that he could no longer support Boris Johnson because of the tone of the Leave campaign he led.
Not every MP is venting anger at Johnson. Nigel Evans MP said Michael Gove ( left, with Johnson) had “stabbed Boris in the front,” and another anonymous supporter told the BBC: “I’d rather vote for Pol Pot than Gove.” Some supporters of Johnson claim that he was stitched up from the start and that Gove’s head had been turned by polling that suggested he was the “darling” of the Tory party membership and by a public endorsement by Rupert Murdoch. One friend of Johnson texted The Sun to say that “Gove is s a c**t who set this up from the start.” Conservative MP Jake Berry tweeted: “There is a a very deep pit reserved in Hell for such as he is. #Gove.” Boris Johnson’s father, Stanley, also got into the exchange of abuse. He was asked by BBC Radio 4’s The World At One for a comment on what Michael Gove had said and done:
“’Et tu Brute’ is my comment on that, I don’t think he is called Brutus, but you never know.”
Stanley Johnson continued by saying he was “very, very knocked over” by the decision:
“I was listening to his speech and it did take me by surprise when he got to that last line … [He was] deeply sorry. […] I was 100% behind his bid to be a candidate in the forthcoming Tory leadership contest. […] I think he would have been a very good candidate and a very good prime minister.”
Was all this a game to Boris Johnson, as Theresa May suggested this morning? If it was, it was a game of very high stakes and a game with no real winners. Boris is perhaps a spent-force which, in my opinion, is a great thing to see. However, the cost of sidelining Johnson from British politics has been a vote by the country to leave the European Union. The consequences of that we have only just begun to see and we are far from knowing what the consequences will be over the next few years. As Lord Heseltine said, Johnson has abandoned those consequences and left the British people, British Government and European Union to deal with them as they face a constitutional crisis the like of which we haven’t seen for a very long time. The country faces the risk of deep economic problems and even further austerity and recession. The Leave victory has divided not only the Tory party but the Labour party as well. It has set Scotland on a path to independence and has left deep worries in Northern Ireland over its future and the future of the peace process and relationship with the Republic of Ireland. The Leave victory has reinforced the deeply distasteful opinions of Nigel Farage and sparked a wave of racist verbal and violent abuse against minorities in the UK. The decision to withdraw the EU has left our European and world partners in disbelief and themselves deeply concerned for the future. It has encouraged nationalist and right-wing politicians and parties throughout Europe and beyond. It has given Donald Trump succour in his divisive campaign to become President of the USA in November. The Leave victory has cost David Cameron his premiership and thrown the Tory party into a leadership election that is unlikely to settle the party’s long-standing in-fighting over Europe. The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, clings on to his position in the face of mass resignations from his Shadow Cabinet and a massive vote of no-confidence in his leadership. The immediate future of both parties are going to be dominated by power struggles and incriminations over Brexit when they should be focusing on dealing with Brexit and the uncertain future. Meanwhile, Johnson sidles off to leave everyone else to deal with the consequences of his leadership of the Leave campaign, which by the end had descended into a divisive fight for the votes of the British pubic – at the cost of the truth and rational debate. Thank you Boris. Job well done.
- Twitter responds to Jonson’s decision (BBC)
- Michael Gove: Boris wasn’t up to the Job (BBC)
- Heseltine on Boris Johnson video (BBC)
- Boris, Gove and an ‘act of treachery’ (BBC)
- Gove’s ambush of Johnson throws open Tory leadership open (The Guardian)
- The Chosen Five – Who is running to be the new Tory leader (The Guardian)
- Boris Johnson won’t seek to lead Britain, but Michael Gove will (The New York Times)
- Boris bows out: UK in shock as Johnson drops leadership bid (The Boston Herald)