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Farewell to Boris Johnson - the great political wrecker of his age

The Gove email landed - and all hell broke loose

Tom Peck
Parliamentary Sketch Writer
Friday 01 July 2016 09:52 BST
Boris waves goodbye to his leadership ambitions
Boris waves goodbye to his leadership ambitions (Getty )

Boris Johnson was still wearing his red tie when he bumbled up to the lectern. Vote Leave chose red to make people think of Labour. They were the votes they needed above all else. British Tommies wore it for morale. To hide the blood.

“This is a time not to fight against the tide of history but to take that tide at the flood and sail on to fortune,” he said. The first and the last drafts of history will all recall that it was through these words of Brutus, the uncrowned emperor of political assassins, that he revealed his mortal wound.

Equally, it served as a gentle reminder that Boris is working on a biography of Shakespeare with a £500,000 advance, and it was kind of him to reassure his shell shocked audience and the wider world: don’t cry for me, I’ll be all right.

It was the loudest explosion of a morning of blue-on-blue blitzkrieg the like of which has not been seen. If the two main parties are about to revert to recent type and fight for the centre ground, never has there been a more denuded exhibition of their most fundamental difference. Angela Eagle, in these mad days, has cried on the radio at her party’s seeming powerlessness to remove its leader. When there is power to be had, the Tories let blood like a shark with a machete.

At 9am, we waited, surrounded by war histories in the library of the Royal United Services Institute, for Theresa May to arrive and explain how, having campaigned to Remain, she and no one else could be trusted to deliver Britain’s exit from the European Union. At the moment, this type of truth gymnastics could hardly come with a lower difficulty rating.

The Gove email landed like a grenade. “I have come, reluctantly, to the conclusion that Boris cannot build a team for the task ahead.”

Boris rules himself out

For the next two hours the Boris Johnson speech was on, then off, then on again. A frantic dash half a mile across Westminster to a plush hotel for a speech that was meant to be Johnson's pitch for Number 10. Google Maps, appropriately enough, tried to send the press pack in throught the back door.

Andrew Mitchell, Nadine Dorries, Kwasi Kwarteng all whooped with joy uncontrolled as he finally made his way on stage, in a well-appointed room of the St Ermin's Hotel. He had freed them from the "job-destroying coils" of the EU, this nation with the lowest unemployment it has ever had, standing on the brink of an entirely self-inflicted recession. They didn’t care. “You have waited faithfully for the punchline of this speech,” he said. The country would need a new Prime Minister. “In view of the circumstances in parliament, I have concluded that person cannot be me.”


David Cameron never wanted this referendum. Boris Johnson never meant to win it. The racist genie now running the streets with wild abandon was never meant to come out of the bottle. The UK was never meant to come out of the European Union.

Beneath the political drama of it all, this is the coldest, most important fact of all. With Johnson gone, Brexit means Brexit. Theresa May had said as much herself. “There will be no general election. There will be no second referendum.”

The thing that no one wanted – apart from 52 per cent of the people who voted – will happen.

“There is a tide in the affairs of men. Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.”

But there will be no fortune. There will be ruin.

Shakespeare, the classics, Tom Brown’s School Days, Brideshead Revisited and the rest will all find their way into what may turn out to be only the first round of eulogies for the great political wrecker of his age. This bike-riding cannonball with flaxen fuse.

I see no metaphor more appropriate than the moment at which 1997 alien sci-fi movie Men In Black moves to its resolution, when it transpires the whole turning galaxy and all intelligent life within it are contained in a pendant hanging on the collar of a cat on a Brooklyn sidestreet.

This shaved orangutan, as the comedian John Oliver called him, has picked up our little lives, whirled them above his head in a mad centrifuge, smashed it all to the ground and walked away, back to a life entirely shielded from the consequences the rest of us now face.

The whole charade has been a chimpanzee’s tea party. The china’s all smashed. There’s cake everywhere. These cheerful imbeciles have known not what they do.

No, the tide of men will not lead on to fortune. At least that’s what Michael Gove’s loathed experts say, and you won’t need to be told they’ve been right about everything so far.

What prompted Gove to wield the knife in this way? We do not know. The "Murdoch/Dacre" threat in his wife’s leaked email? The two men have spent the last three months in intense partnership. The realisation that Boris was not fit for the job cannot have come overnight.

“There is a very deep pit reserved in hell for such as he,” said Jake Berry of Gove, briefly a member of the brief Johnson campaign team.

What’s certain is that Gove will never be trusted again. And nor should the Conservative Party. To do anything.

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