ANDREW PIERCE: How a motley crew have tried to bring down Boris

Operation Revenge! ANDREW PIERCE on how Theresa, Dom and a motley crew of Remainers have spent the past week trying to bring down Boris

Although she is something of a loner and hardly known for her small talk, Theresa May was locked in conversation with fellow backbenchers in the Commons last week.

The former prime minister was also unusually animated and jocular as she took her seat in the chamber.

It was clear that she was relishing the discomfort of Boris Johnson who she still blames for her relegation to the backbenches, where she has been consumed with resentment ever since she was toppled as the Conservative Party leader.

‘She is grinning from ear to ear,’ said one of her senior former ministers. ‘She scents blood and is enjoying it. She has become an appalling backseat driver. She is turning into another Ted Heath who glowered from the backbenches all the way through Mrs Thatcher’s leadership.’

The former prime minister was also unusually animated and jocular as she took her seat in the chamber. It was clear that she was relishing the discomfort of Boris Johnson who she still blames for her relegation to the backbenches

But while Mrs May has so far not commented in public on the Downing Street party, there has been no such reticence on the part of many former colleagues who were close to her, some of whom were kicked out of the Tory party by Mr Johnson because of Brexit.

They are all part of Operation Revenge.

One of the first out of the traps was her former Downing Street chief of staff Gavin Barwell, who she elevated to the Lords.

In a series of critical comments last week, he outraged many Tory MPs.

The peer even retweeted an opinion poll showing for the first time that a majority of people want Mr Johnson to quit.

‘The Tory party has always been ruthless but more than any other previous leader Boris Johnson’s position is based on being seen as an electoral asset,’ he said.

Another relic from the past to take to the airwaves was Anna Soubry, who quit the party in February 2019 in protest at the Government’s Brexit policy.

Of course, all these enemies of Mr Johnson have been encouraged, ironically, by a Brexit supporter – a man who seems to be eaten up by revenge: Dominic Cummings. It was in November last year that Mr Cummings was told to leave Downing Street with immediate effect. And he has been sniping from the sidelines ever since

At the general election, she stood in her Broxtowe constituency for The Independent Group for Change, polling a humiliating 8 per cent compared with the Tory candidate who won with 48 per cent.

‘The party is over. The game is up. Just go. Resign Boris Johnson,’ said Miss Soubry who was predictably given a slot on the BBC for her attack.

David Gauke, a former justice secretary, who had the Tory whip removed by Mr Johnson because of his stance on Brexit, also put the knife in.

‘It is mystifying that there could be a culture inside No 10 that rules could be ignored.

‘How on earth could that possibly have happened,’ he asked, adding that the PM had lost his moral authority. ‘The answer is to change the Prime Minister.’

This is the same David Gauke who, after losing the whip, stood as an independent in his Hertfordshire constituency at the election and polled 25 per cent compared with the Conservative candidate’s 50 per cent.

What unites all these May acolytes is not only their loathing of Mr Johnson, but also of Brexit. Here, they see a chance to get their own back on the man who managed to make it happen – a task at which Mrs May so conspicuously failed. 

Another who has joined in is John Bercow, the first former Speaker to be denied an automatic peerage in 300 years and a man who famously drove a car with a ‘Bollocks To Brexit’ sticker on it while in office.

David Gauke, a former justice secretary, who had the Tory whip removed by Mr Johnson because of his stance on Brexit, also put the knife in. ‘It is mystifying that there could be a culture inside No 10 that rules could be ignored. ‘How on earth could that possibly have happened,’ he asked, adding that the PM had lost his moral authority

He took to the airwaves to try to wreak revenge after Mr Johnson blocked the ennoblement. 

Mr Bercow, who defected to the Labour Party this year, said: ‘Boris Johnson is regarded as a habitual liar, someone who has made his career through ducking, dodging, diving and deceiving people. I have known 12 PMs and by a country mile Boris Johnson is the worst.’

Coming from an individual who is widely regarded as the worst Speaker in living memory, it is an insult that’s unlikely to give Mr Johnson sleepless nights.

He will be more disappointed – though perhaps not surprised – by the attacks from Ruth Davidson, the former Tory leader in Scotland and another Remainer, who has in the past accused Mr Johnson of ‘peddling lies’ and of being ‘pathetic’. She has always had a fraught relationship with the Prime Minister and was amazed when he elevated her to the House of Lords this year.

‘I’m astonished he signed it off,’ she said. ‘Genuinely astonished. When it came through, I was like “are you f****** kidding me?”’

But despite her elevation, her message posted on Twitter last week was hardly supportive: ‘None of this is remotely defensible.

‘Not having busy, boozy not-parties while others were sticking to the rules, unable to visit ill or dying loved ones. Nor flat-out denying things that are easily provable. Not taking the public for fools.’

Of course, all these enemies of Mr Johnson have been encouraged, ironically, by a Brexit supporter – a man who seems to be eaten up by revenge: Dominic Cummings.

It was in November last year that Mr Cummings was told to leave Downing Street with immediate effect. And he has been sniping from the sidelines ever since.

This week, however, he went into overdrive, even releasing details of the layout of the Downing Street interior to try to show Mr Johnson must have known if an illicit party was taking place, and predicting the Prime Minister would ‘be gone before the next election … probably summer’.

That is not how Mr Johnson sees it. Tellingly, he has now launched his fightback. His allies at the weekend condemn the BBC as ‘shamefully frivolous, vengeful and partisan’ over its coverage of the Partygate row.

He also went on the offensive last night to put a rocket under the nation’s Covid booster programme, saying everyone over-18 should be given the chance of a booster by the end of the year.

It is an indication that Mr Johnson – once known among colleagues as the ‘greased piglet’ for his ability to escape tricky situations – has no intention of giving succour to the vengeful plotters calling for his head.

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