For all his great PR, Boris won’t succeed May

It is good to know there are still some timeless certainties in politics. The Conservative Party will be split over Europe. The media will be obsessed with leadership challenge rumours and Boris Johnson will be doing anything within his power to generate publicity for himself.

Ever since the Foreign Secretary dropped his 4,000 word Brexit article last Friday, all other issues have been relegated to a back seat. Even yesterday’s implication of a nuclear war only momentarily halted the speculation. Was this a coup attempt? Will Johnson challenge Theresa May for the leadership? Will he be sacked? Will they clash at the UN? Will he resign if her speech doesn’t meet his demands?

The answer, I suspect, is none of the above. Instead it was a cunning PR move with profound implications for the wide-open race to succeed May. The actual substance of Brexit is only secondary. All that remains subject to change. Besides, as we know from his two articles backing either side of the referendum ahead of the vote last year, Boris likes to hedge his bets.

Johnson now claims to be mystified by quit rumours

As things stand, Johnson remains part of a government that is a “nest of singing birds”. Yet ‘friends‘ are leaking to serious newspapers that he could quit by the weekend if he doesn’t like May’s speech. That he ‘could not live with the version of Brexit under consideration.” On the other hand, this morning’s Times says he’s staying and Bloomberg report him to be ‘mystified’ by the speculation.

So far as specific detail is concerned, these ‘versions’ of Brexit are merely speculation, at least until May delivers her speech, let alone agreement actually reached with the EU. Clearly, differences concern the length and cost of a transitional deal after Brexit, with reports suggesting she is leaning towards a Switzerland-style deal. The harder Brexit group – now apparently led by Johnson – prefer a looser arrangement.

I suspect that by next week these facts could have changed and few will remember the details. Brexit will remain an incredibly complex, controversial process, to be driven by developments that few, including the chief participants, can be expected to foresee.

There will be no imminent leadership challenge. Nobody else wants May’s job until we have actually left the EU. Why risk being blamed for the fallout? Be sure, critics will persistently portray everything as a disaster. Afterwards, being the PM of ‘newly independent’ Britain becomes a great gig, full of opportunity. The current drama is all about positioning for that contest.

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