The Conservative grandee on how the hard Brexiteers could bring about their own undoingby Alex Dean / November 29, 2018 / Leave a comment
Britain is on the verge of its biggest constitutional rupture in living memory. The decision to upend 45 years’ of integration with Europe has sent Westminster into meltdown and left politicians and journalists scrambling to work out the consequences. What does Brexit mean for our political system? What is going to happen?
Few are more qualified to answer than Malcolm Rifkind. Now 72, he is one of Britain’s elder statesmen, holding a host of cabinet positions under Margaret Thatcher and John Major, rising to Defence and then Foreign Secretary. He was MP for Edinburgh Pentlands from 1974 to 1997 and Kensington from 2010 to 2015, during which time he also chaired parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee. Few have been thinking about Britain’s political institutions—and international alliances—for so long.
When we met in Prospect’s Westminster offices we discussed the decision to leave the EU and the political fallout of Theresa May’s teetering Brexit plan. But first, what did he make of the blonde-haired man who helped to swing the vote? Rifkind, in his polite way, was damning.
Boris Johnson is “primarily a journalist,” he told me. He “gives more attention to the headlines.” I shifted slightly in my seat. The MP for Uxbridge is “highly intelligent on the vast majority of issues,” but Jeremy Hunt is a “significant improvement” as Foreign Secretary, Rifkind continued, peering through the glasses on the end of his nose.
“The big mistake was after the referendum. He had to be given a senior job in government, obviously given the prominence in the Brexit campaign. I think in retrospect it would have been better if he’d been put in charge of a domestic department, not because there wouldn’t have been embarrassments—but if there had been, they would have been national embarrassments. The rest of the world wouldn’t have noticed.” He didn’t stop there. Harold MacMillan, he reminded me, said foreign secretaries “are either dull or dangerous, and Boris wasn’t dull.”
Johnson is no longer at the Foreign Office, having walked out over Theresa May’s diluted Brexit approach. He now stirs up trouble from the backbenches, delivering withering assessments of the prime minister’s plans in his Telegraph columns. When the draft withdrawal agreement was presented earlier this month, Johnson was one of its fiercest Tory critics, along with Jacob Rees-Mogg.
The Conservative Party is now hopelessly divided over what to do.…