James Forsyth

Boris tells Cabinet, ‘I’m the most liberal Conservative PM in decades’

Boris tells Cabinet, ‘I’m the most liberal Conservative PM in decades’
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Anyone expecting today’s Cabinet to have been a bust-up following Amber Rudd’s resignation will have been disappointed. From what I’m hearing, it was a strikingly harmonious meeting.

Perhaps this was because most of the meeting was focused on the government’s domestic agenda. On Brexit, I’m told that Boris Johnson said his policy remains unchanged—that he still wanted the UK to leave on October 31st with a deal if possible, but without one if needs be. He said that what he’ll do on 19 October, the day on which the Prime Minister is required by the Benn Bill to request an extension if there’s no deal, will only become clearer nearer the time.

At the start of the meeting, Boris Johnson took on the argument made by many of the Tory 21 that this is an extreme government, and that he is turning the Tories into a right-wing sect. He argued that most voters want the referendum result delivered, which is what he is trying to do, and that his domestic agenda is in the common ground of British politics. He pointed out that he was more trusted on the NHS than Jeremy Corbyn, which would hardly be the case if the critics’ charge was true. He told the Cabinet that he was ‘the most liberal Conservative PM in decades’. At which point, Matt Hancock interjected, ‘Don’t tell Priti’.

Cabinet saw presentations from Priti Patel on dealing with violent crime, Matt Hancock on the NHS and Gavin Williamson on education. Boris Johnson made clear that he wanted the government to focus on the NHS, crime and the cost of living over the next five weeks. The question now is whether with parliament not sitting, Boris Johnson can dominate the news agenda for the next five weeks as he did in August. If he can, then he’ll be able to give his domestic agenda the hard sell before the coming election campaign has even started. But this was the risk that the opposition parties chose to take when they voted down the government’s attempts to call an October 15th election.