'˜Backseat driver' Boris Johnson rebuked over Brexit outburst

Boris Johnson faced criticism over his 4,000-word blueprint for a 'glorious' Brexit yesterday, with Amber Rudd accusing him of 'backseat driving' and the head of the UK Statistics Authority condemning repetition of claims that leaving the EU will generate £350 million a week for the NHS.

Theresa May with Boris Johnson. Picture: Leon Neal/PA Wire

But the Foreign Secretary was also backed by a number of Cabinet colleagues, adding weight to suggestions that his intervention in a newspaper article represents a 
challenge to Theresa May’s leadership of the Conservative Party.

The Prime Minister’s allies said Mr Johnson would keep his job and suggested “people should calm down” despite his comments potentially undermining a major speech on Brexit by Mrs May this week.

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Asked about the article on the Andrew Marr Show, Ms Rudd said she had been “too busy” dealing with the Parsons Green bomb attack to read it and criticised Mr Johnson for releasing the piece at the time of the blast.

Mrs Rudd, a Remain supporter, crossed swords with him during the EU referendum campaign, describing him as “not the man you want driving you home”.

She said yesterday: “What I meant by that is, I don’t want him managing the Brexit 
process.”

Mrs Rudd insisted the Prime Minister is “driving the car” and, when pressed on Mr Johnson’s actions, said: “You could call it backseat driving.”

She described her colleague as an “irrepressible enthusiast” on Brexit who brought “enthusiasm, energy and sometimes entertainment” to the Cabinet.

However, Sir David Norgrove, head of the statistics watchdog, was less impressed, writing to Mr Johnson to say he was “surprised and disappointed” he had revived the widely discredited referendum pledge that up to £350m a week extra could be spent on the NHS after Brexit and called it a “clear misuse” of official figures.

On Friday, Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson led criticism of Mr Johnson, posting on Twitter: “On the day of a 
terror attack where Britons were maimed, just hours after the threat level is raised, our only thoughts should be on service.”

Mrs Rudd said yesterday she “has a point”.

Mr Johnson’s decision to release the article six days before Mrs May is due to set out her plans for Brexit in a speech in Florence prompted
claims by allies of the Prime Minister that the move was “hostile” and “attention-
seeking”.

But amid the furore, Mr Johnson insisted in a tweet he was “looking forward to PM’s Florence speech”.

He added: “All behind 
Theresa for a glorious Brexit.” He was reported to have the backing of senior Cabinet ministers Michael Gove, who infamously betrayed him 
during his abortive leadership bid last year, and Priti Patel.

Mrs May’s de facto deputy Damian Green said Mr Johnson would not be sacked over his intervention. The First Secretary of State told Sunday With Paterson on Sky News: “No, he isn’t and the reason is, he, like the rest of the Cabinet, like the Prime Minister, is all about wanting to get the best deal for the 
British people.”

The SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford suggested parliament should be recalled so Mrs May could clarify the government’s Brexit stance for MPs.

Mr Blackford said: “It is clear that the Tory Cabinet remains bitterly divided over the UK’s Brexit negotiating position – a completely untenable position for the UK government to maintain at such an important crossroads for the country.

“With senior government ministers openly backing opposing and incompatible Brexit positions while the negotiations are ongoing, Theresa May must urgently clarify who speaks for the UK government and whether the UK’s negotiating position has changed. It would be unacceptable if changes to the UK’s negotiating position were to be announced in Florence, with no parliamentary scrutiny.”