Boris should resign — but he won’t

The Foreign Secretary’s behavior and dissatisfaction should lead to a ‘snap’ resignation, but the options facing him personally are decreasing.

It’s no secret that Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson is increasingly tired of the work the Government is doing and of the direction that the Government is taking him in on the issue of Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union. It is also increasingly clear that his influence over that direction is increasingly wearing thin, with Theresa May more likely at the moment to listen to the Treasury and Home Office, with the Foreign Office increasingly side-lined on all cabinet debate around Brexit.

Even his public intervention over the issue of the transition period after 2019 went almost unnoticed, with not a single plausible concession from Theresa May in her speech on Friday in Italy, apart from possibly the explicit ruling out of the Norway model (it was never really on the table as a possibility anyway, yet Johnson felt the need to tweet about his victory on this issue). Johnson’s power base just by virtue of being a Cabinet Minister is also severly limited now; what actually is the role of the Foreign Secretary in the age of Brexit?

Trade is handled by Liam Fox at the Department for International Trade, the process of Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union at David Davis’ Department for Exiting the European Union, while foreign policy is developed by №10’s own policy unity, not by an independent department or Office of State. Even British Aid is managed by Priti Patel’s Department for International Development, depriving the Foreign Office and in turn Boris Johnson any meaningful power. In many ways, the role of Foreign Secretary is better suited to an elder Statesman and Member of the House of Lords than an MP.

Boris Johnson is no such elder Statesman, and was probably handed the job as a method to keep him quiet. On the one hand, he would be out of the country, unable to pursue a leadership bid as the summer showed perfectly, while also being bound — however loosely, recently — by collective cabinet responsibility. On the other he would be seen to completely fail at the job of Chief Diplomat, even with such a slimmed down portfolio, further damaging his leadership ambitions. It is safe to assume now that despite his personal ambitions, MPs largely wouldn’t accept him as the next Conservative Party Leader.

That fact runs deeper than just the fact he is absent as Foreign Secretary. Leave supporting Conservatives don’t trust him because they view Boris Johnson as someone who jumped on the Eurosceptic bandwagon when it looked like it would help his career. In the end it did in a way: it gave him one of the Great Offices of State, but didn’t put him in Downing Street. And while he used to be the darling of a more moderate, international and liberal conservatism that could win (twice) in a Labour City, he came crashing down in the expectations of Remainers who view their Foreign Secretary as a lost (*cough* £350 million a week *cough*) and a someone with no principles other than helping his own ambition.

That’s the main reason he won’t resign despite his well known dissatisfaction with the Government and the Brexit process. While in the Cabinet he at least grabs headlines and rumors, as well as the imagination of journalists and commentators. If he were to leave, he would be shunned by backbench MPs who view him as a careerist, with Leavers saying he is destabilising Brexit and Remainers seeing him as a liar. He would be scorched by the members of his own Party on full force, killing his remaining leadership ambitions. There is no personal benefit to a resignation, and that is the main reason Boris won’t resign.

But what about the possibility of being forced out of the cabinet? If there’s anything we’ve learned from the last few weeks of cabinet shifting and maneuvering, it’s that Theresa May is powerless when it comes to firing people.

But surely Boris Johnson’s personal difficulties with MPs make him a safe sacking and an opportunity for Theresa May? Yes and No. Yes, his removal from the Cabinet would be an opportunity for May to flex her muscles and move her ministerial team around, reminding them that she is still the Prime Minister. But Theresa May doesn’t want to do that: giving him the opportunity to gather support on the back benches isn’t worth it, even with his disloyalty over the issue of a Brexit transition deal that is exactly the opposite of what Theresa May proposed in her Florence speech.

In the end, Boris Johnson roundly deserved the sack after her behavior the last few weeks. He would even, in normal circumstances, should be prepared to walk away from Government. But his increasing isolation and, frankly, irrelevancy, means he won’t resign, and May’s insecurity and lack of authority means he won’t be sacked, either.