The cuckoo nest plot: when Michael Gove stabbed Boris Johnson in the front


This is an extract from Heathcote Williams’ book Brexit Boris: From Mayor to Nightmare, in which the dark side of Britain’s foreign secretary Boris Johnson is forensically exposed. Uncovered are the lies, the sackings, the betrayals, the racist insults, the brush with criminality, that should have got Boris Johnson disbarred from ever being considered for high office. Brexit Boris: From Mayor to Nightmare is illustrated by seven of the UK’s top cartoonists and is available from Public Reading Rooms for £8 post free.

If asked whether Johnson could be trusted as a dog sitter or even to run a bath many people would firmly answer “no”, and many more people would regard with some serious apprehension the thought of a clumsy, greedy, violent and meretricious charlatan justifying his government’s cuts in honesty as he lumbered round Downing Street clutching the nuclear codes with which to launch a Trident missile.

However, at the eleventh hour this mini-apocalypse was thwarted. The tale now took a dramatic twist. The man who “loves to be loved” was betrayed by one of his closest friends, government justice minister Michael Gove, who announced, “I have come, reluctantly, to the conclusion that Boris cannot provide the leadership or build the team for the task ahead.”

Gove had been Johnson’s trusted ally in the referendum campaign and he’d known Johnson for almost 30 years since they were contemporaries at the Oxford Union debating society where Gove had backed Johnson’s bid to become president of the society in 1986.

In 2005 Gove would recall their undergraduate relationship: “I was Boris’s stooge. I became a votary of the Boris cult.” Suddenly however Gove announced that rather than continuing to serve as campaign manager in Johnson’s bid to become prime minister, he had decided to stand against him as Tory leader.

In Gove’s view Johnson “wasn’t capable” of the office. Michael Gove, who as a journalist had once called for the return of hanging, was now leaving his friend of half a lifetime to hang out to dry. Despite Johnson’s own serial treachery as he climbed the greasy pole of both his career and his concupiscence, it came as a bolt from the blue. He’d only learn of it an hour or two before he was due to announce his candidacy.

Johnson’s own paper, the Daily Telegraph, reported: “Not since the toppling of Margaret Thatcher 26 years ago has there been a drama on the heroic scale witnessed at Westminster on Thursday. At 9am Mr Johnson was widely assumed to be the favourite to succeed David Cameron as the next Tory leader and prime minister. By midday his career was in tatters.”

In an article entitled: “How Boris Johnson was brought to his knees by the ‘cuckoo nest plot’”, the Telegraph’s chief reporter Gordon Rayner wrote: “In Westminster, lobby journalists were reminding each other of Lenin’s famous comment that: “There are decades where nothing happens, and there are weeks where decades happen.” Except in this case, the time frame was hours, not weeks.

Rayner continued: “Justice Secretary Mr Gove, 48, has for years said he had no ambitions to be prime minister and did not have the skills to be prime minister, making him an ideal deputy for leadership hopeful Boris Johnson—or so Mr Johnson thought.”

Tory insiders had been pronouncing the Johnson-Gove combination to be the “dream ticket” but now that Michael Gove had entered the leadership race their man was propelled from favourite to non-runner and Johnson’s backers were left gasping.

As one of the most prominent Leave campaigners, Johnson had been widely expected to put himself forward as a potential successor. Instead, on Thursday 30 June 2016, in the front row of a conference room of four-star St Ermin’s Hotel in central London, an ashen-faced Johnson stunned his supporters and his enemies alike with the last words of a speech in which he’d recounted his achievements as Mayor of London but then suddenly declared that the next person to lead the Tory party “cannot be me”.

He’d been told by his colleagues, including Gove, that he’d be unable to unify the party let alone the country. The Daily Mail reported a source as saying that Johnson’s team feared Gove would launch a smear campaign against him. “Boris is very unguarded with people close to him and had shared all manner of confidences with Michael during the campaign and there were fears Gove’s people are so ruthless it would be dripped out to the media to damage him,” said the source.

Johnson could perhaps have anticipated all the skeletons in his cupboard dancing noisily on his coffin and to a jig devised by his former friend. All he could say was ‘Et tu, Brute’. Johnson’s father, Stanley, chimed in with the same Shakespeare quotation. Both father and son could see Caesar’s laurel crown moving tantalisingly out of reach.

“Boris Johnson peddled lies, half-truths and evasions. Now he’s paid the price,” was the immediate reaction of Johnson’s biographer, Sonia Purnell.



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