Tories at war over Boris Johnson 'suicide vest' jibe at May over her Chequers Brexit plan

Minister vows to end former foreign secretary's political career after 'disgusting' latest attack on prime minister's Brexit strategy

Benjamin Kentish
Political Correspondent
Monday 10 September 2018 08:02 BST
Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, on Boris Johnson's suicide vest comment: 'Well, he has a difference of an opinion with the Prime Minister'

Internal divisions in the Conservative Party have exploded into a bitter public row over Boris Johnson‘s “disgusting” criticism of Theresa May.

Some senior Tories furiously denounced the former foreign secretary after he accused the prime minister of having ”wrapped a suicide vest” around Britain.

Sajid Javid, the home secretary, rebuked his former cabinet colleague and said: “I think there are much better ways to articulate your differences.”

He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that the public wanted politicians to use “measured language”.

But other MPs leapt to Mr Johnson’s defence, as dividing lines ahead of a possible leadership contest begin to take shape.

The Uxbridge MP has repeatedly criticised Ms May’s Chequers plan and used a newspaper article on Sunday to suggest it amounted to “wrapping a suicide vest around the British constitution”.

His latest salvo at the prime minister prompted immediate condemnation, with one minister publicly vowing to end Mr Johnson’s career over the matter.

Alan Duncan, a foreign minister who worked in Mr Johnson’s team for two years, wrote on Twitter: “For Boris to say the PM’s view is like that of a suicide bomber is too much. This marks one of the most disgusting moments in modern British politics.

“I’m sorry, but this is the political end of Boris Johnson. If it isn’t now, I will make sure it is later.”

Housing secretary James Brokenshire added his voice to the criticism, calling Mr Johnson’s comments ”wrong”.

He said: “I think he is wrong on this...I think the tone that he has used isn’t right and I think that we just need to be very focused on actually moving forward with the Chequers plan.”

But as Tory hostilities spilled over into open public warfare, Richmond Park MP Zac Goldsmith, an ally of Mr Johnson, hit back at Mr Duncan.

He wrote: “There are a number of possible motives behind this tweet, but given its author, we can be certain ‘principles’ aren’t one of them.”

Senior Tory Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg told The Independent he thought Mr Johnson’s “suicide belt” accusation was little more than “a characteristically colourful catchphrase”.

He added: “I agree with the sentiment. The criticism of Boris’s wording merely serves to highlight his point. It means more people hear of Boris’s criticism of Chequers and many will agree with him.”

Nadine Dorries, another Brexit supporter, said Mr Johnson’s opponents were “terrified of his popular appeal”, adding: “Don’t underestimate the vitriol that’ll be directed towards Boris today. He delivered the Leave vote, Remainers and wannabe future PMs hate him.”

If Mr Johnson became leader and prime minister he would deliver a “clean and prosperous” Brexit, she said.

And Andrew Bridgen said Ms May was to blame for her leadership problems.

Asked if Mr Johnson had put a bomb under her leadership, Mr Bridgen said: “I think that Theresa May did that herself when she put forward the Chequers proposals without consulting widely prior to that.”

On Sunday night the battle lines were drawn over the UK's exit from the EU as Steve Baker, the former Brexit minister, warned Ms May the Conservatives faced a "catastrophic split" if she did not jettison her Chequers plan.

Mr Baker, who quit the government in July over the scheme, said: “When negotiating, the prime minister needs to demonstrate her intent and also her power to deliver.

"If we come out of conference with her hoping to get Chequers through on the back of Labour votes, I think the EU negotiators would probably understand that if that were done, the Tory party would suffer the catastrophic split which thus far we have managed to avoid.”

But he insisted he did not want a change in the Conservative leadership, saying Brexiteers did “not want to be in a position of conflict with our own prime minister”.

Mr Johnson has been accused of plotting a leadership coup.

The deep divisions on the Tory benches were laid bare as Tom Tugendhat, who chairs the Commons foreign affairs committee and is a possible leadership rival to Mr Johnson, also hit out at the former foreign secretary.

Recalling how he encountered a suicide bomber in Afghanistan during his time in the army, Mr Tugendhat told Mr Johnson to “grow up”.

He said: “A suicide bomber murdered many in the courtyard of my office in Helmand. The carnage was disgusting, limbs and flesh hanging from trees and bushes. Brave men who stopped him killing me and others died in horrific pain.

“Some need to grow up. Comparing the PM to that isn’t happy.”

And Alistair Burt, another Foreign Office minister who worked in Mr Johnson’s team, said: “I’m stunned at the nature of this attack. There is no justification for such an outrageous, inappropriate and hurtful analogy.

“If we don’t stop his extraordinary use of language over Brexit, our country might never heal. Again, I say, enough.”

It comes amid that Ms May’s former aides drew up a dossier on Mr Johnson’s sexual encounters with the aim of undermining his leadership prospects.

The document was compiled in 2016, when the Uxbridge and South Ruislip MP was seen as the main rival to Ms May in her bid to enter No 10.

Downing Street and Conservative Campaign Headquaters (CCHQ) both denied having leaked the 4,000 word memo after it was circulated around Westminster.

Mr Johnson confirmed this week that his 25-year marriage to wife Marina had ended.

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