Boris Johnson addressed the Tory party conference this afternoon after many hours of build-up in Manchester. Michael Gove thought last night that it would be an “absolute barnstormer”, while Michael Fallon couldn’t resist getting in some digs ahead of his speech – originally expected to be titled “Let the Lion Roar” (but now billed as “Winning the future”) . Britain’s new aircraft carriers, the Defence Secretary said, were “the real lion that roars”. He also spoke pointedly of the importance of loyalty.
The Foreign Secretary did his best not to undermine Theresa May, insisting that her cabinet were united behind “every syllable” of her speech in Florence on Brexit and claiming that the “whole country owes her a debt for her steadfastness”. He expected her to secure Britain a “great Brexit deal”, and rounded off by saying the nation could in its “traditional non-threatening, genial and self-deprecating way” let “that lion roar”. His speech came after fellow Brexiteer ministers banged the drum for Britain’s departure. Priti Patel said that Brexit would be the country’s chance to become a “global beacon for free trade, enterprise and free markets”, while Liam Fox forecast a ‘bright future”. David Davis made clear how serious ministers were on securing a good deal, declaring that Whitehall was putting a “determined” amount of work in preparing for exiting – if necessary – without a deal. The Brexit Secretary thought it would be a “dereliction of duty” not to do so.
The Prime Minister will be relieved to have such ministerial support, as the European Parliament has been kicking off over the Brexit process. Manfred Weber, the senior German MEP, urged her today in Strasbourg to “please sack” her Foreign Secretary. She told media this morning that no minister was unsackable, although MEPs asking her to sack Mr Johnson will almost certainly ensure he remains safe.
The final day of the Tory conference draws near, when Mrs May will wrap up proceedings with her own keynote speech. The tone she strikes on Brexit, and Britain’s future under her leadership, will be viewed with great interest. Perhaps she will be inspired by Jacob Rees-Mogg, who compared Brexit in its significance to battles like Agincourt, Waterloo and Trafalgar. If this prime ministerial lion wants to assert her place as leader of the Tory pride, she will have to show she can roar in her own right.
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