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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 September 2018

Boris Johnson criticised for suicide vest jibe

The former British foreign secretary’s comments came amid rumours of a leadership challenge

Leader in waiting? Boris Johnson at the fifth cricket test match between England and India on September 8, 2018. Reuters
Leader in waiting? Boris Johnson at the fifth cricket test match between England and India on September 8, 2018. Reuters

Senior figures from the UK’s ruling party rebuked former foreign secretary Boris Johnson on Sunday after he used the imagery of suicide bombers to describe Britain’s position on Brexit.

The ex-minister’s latest tirade against his party’s leadership since quitting the government in July triggered a fresh round of in-fighting within the divided Conservatives.

“We have wrapped a suicide vest around the British constitution - and handed the detonator to [EU chief negotiator] Michel Barnier,” he wrote in the Mail on Sunday.

Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee Tom Tugendhat, a former army officer who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, said that Mr Johnson had to “grow up”.

“A suicide bomber murdered many in the courtyard of my office in Helmand,” he wrote on Twitter. “Some need to grow up. Comparing the PM to that isn’t funny.”

The charismatic but gaffe-prone Mr Johnson is seen as a popular figure among the party’s grassroots support but divides opinion among ruling party politicians. Some see him as a rallying figure for a post-Brexit future after fronting the campaign to leave the European Union, but detractors view him as a power-hungry political opportunist intent on securing the party’s leadership.

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MP Sarah Wollaston said she would consider leaving the party if Mr Johnson became leader. “Personally I hope that won’t happen. I don’t think he is fit to lead the country,” she told BBC Radio.

Two of Ms Wollaston’s colleagues from the Remain wing of the party, Dominic Grieve and Heidi Allen, have made similar threats in recent weeks.

Mr Grieve said that language used by Mr Johnson in the Mail on Sunday article was “entirely in character: crude but, for some, entertaining populist polemic".

“He can highlight flaws in the Chequers plan but his alternatives are worse,” he said.

Mr Grieve said “every option on Brexit is worse than our staying in the EU and he bears a substantial measure of responsibility as to how we got into this mess.”

Foreign Office minister Alan Duncan also suggested that the comments marked “one of the most disgusting moments in modern British politics”.

He said the column should mark the “political end of Boris Johnson”.

Meanwhile, the Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, told the BBC there were “better ways to articulate your differences”.

Mr Johnson has been seen as the favourite to succeed prime minister Theresa May, who is battling to preserve her authority as she negotiates Britain’s exit from the European Union against strong opposition.

Her preferred plan sparked Mr Johnson’s departure from her cabinet. That plan has been criticised by sections of her party, the opposition and by Mr Barnier, with Monday marking only the 200-day mark before UK’s departure in March, 2019.

Mr Johnson returned to the theme that the prime minister’s negotiating position was a “humiliation” that gave too many concessions to European negotiators.

“It is a humiliation. We look like a seven-stone weakling being comically bent out of shape by a 500lb gorilla,” he wrote.

Mr Johnson’s intervention only partially deflected attention from the media focus at the weekend on his marital woes, after it emerged that he was splitting from his wife of 25 years amid suggestions of an affair with a party official.

In a sign of the war within the party, The Sunday Times reported that Mrs May’s aides had drawn up a dossier on Mr Johnson during an aborted run for the leadership in 2016. The newspaper reported the 4,000-word dossier was circulating in Westminster last week.

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