Kenneth Clarke has launched a withering attack on Boris Johnson, describing his 4,000-word Brexit article as an “irrelevant nuisance” and claimed he would have been sacked the day after its publication in “normal times”.
The former Conservative Cabinet minister also issued a plea to ministers to set out a compromise between them on the Government’s Brexit strategy ahead of Theresa May’s keynote speech in Florence on Friday.
Mr Clarke’s comments come after Theresa May rebuked the Foreign Secretary in Ottawa, insisting “I’m in charge” and denied she had “lost control” of her ministers despite Mr Johnson’s open challenge to her Brexit policy.
Describing the Foreign Secretary’s article in the Daily Telegraph – seen as a prelude to a leadership bid or a resignation by many of his colleagues – Mr Clarke said the “personal publicity and campaigning” by Mr Johnson was an “irrelevant nuisance”.
He also accused Mr Johnson of “exploiting” the Prime Minister’s fragile Government following the inconclusive general election result, adding: “Remember there are rules called collective responsibility – he shouldn’t exploit the fact that she [Ms May] hasn’t got a majority in Parliament and he knows perfectly well that normally a Foreign Secretary would be sacked instantly for doing that. She unfortunately, after the general election, is not in the position easily to sack him but he should stop exploiting it.”
He said in any “normal circumstances” the Foreign Secretary would have been “sacked the day after” the publication of his article that was seen a direct challenge to the Prime Minister’s authority.
“If he wants to be Foreign Secretary he should actually make some more serious contributions on wider foreign policy, give his views on the Brexit deal privately as ministers have always been supposed to do,” he added.
“In the national interest there really has got to be some compromise to come together. You do that in Cabinet discussion. You do that by talking to the Prime Minister, privately. You don’t put self-publicising articles in the most Eurosceptic newspaper you can think of that’s read by most of the people who have got a vote in the leadership election.
Speaking to journalists en route to Canada for trade talks with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Ms May swerved the question of whether she though Mr Johnson would resign. “We are all agreed as a Government about the importance of ensuring that we get the right deal for Brexit,” she said “We are optimistic about what we can be achieving.”
Asked if, after Mr Johnson’s challenge, she was “truly in charge”, Ms May replied: “This Government is driven from the front and we are all going to the same destination.”
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