Saturday 21 September 2019

'Torn between family and national interest': Prime minister's brother quits cabinet

Ministerial role: Jo Johnson had been brought back into a cabinet position by his brother. Photo: AP
Ministerial role: Jo Johnson had been brought back into a cabinet position by his brother. Photo: AP

David Hughes

Boris Johnson's brother has quit the British government, saying he had been "torn between family loyalty and the national interest".

Jo Johnson, who had been a senior minister attending meetings of his brother's cabinet, said there was an "unresolvable tension".

He announced on Twitter he was quitting his role as universities minister and would stand down as MP for Orpington.

Mr Johnson said: "It's been an honour to represent Orpington for nine years and to serve as a minister under three PMs.

"In recent weeks I've been torn between family loyalty and the national interest - it's an unresolvable tension & time for others to take on my roles as MP & minister. #overandout," he tweeted.

Jo Johnson is pro-European and has previously called for a second referendum, a position that puts him at odds with the prime minister, who has vowed to leave the EU on October 31 with or without a Brexit deal.

"The prime minister would like to thank Jo Johnson for his service," a statement from his brother's office said.

Jo Johnson's shock exit from politics may be typical of his family's flair for drama, but his brother is unlikely to appreciate its timing.

A firm Remainer who was brought into his brother's inner political circle, attending cabinet as universities minister, Jo Johnson has left as the prime minister is besieged from all sides.

It is his second resignation in the space of a year, having quit his role as transport minister in Theresa May's government last November to join the clamour for a second referendum.

He said then he had wanted Brexit to work in order to "reunite our country, our party and, yes, my family too" and returned to government in July after his brother took over at Number 10.

The pair had always been seeking a different outcome, but the former MP for Orpington was at least loyal to the last.

Tension

He was not among the Tory rebels who voted against the government for legislation seeking to block a no-deal Brexit, and he backed his brother's failed motion for a snap general election.

But he admitted the tension between their Brexit positions and family loyalties had now become "unresolvable" for him.

Jo Johnson (47) had a swift rise through the Tory ranks after being elected in 2010 as he was appointed to head the Number 10 policy unit and was made a cabinet office minister in 2013.

After the 2015 Tory election victory, he became universities and science minister, a role he held until January 2018 when he switched to the transport department as rail minister and was also made minister for London.

Unlike his brother, Jo Johnson has largely avoided controversy but became involved in a bruising political squall over the appointment of journalist and free school campaigner Toby Young to the board of the Office for Students (OfS).

Mr Young quit the role in January last year after social media posts from his past caused an outcry.

Like his older brother, Jo Johnson enjoyed a distinguished career in journalism before entering politics, working for the 'Financial Times' as, among other roles, South-east Asia bureau chief and Paris correspondent.

Irish Independent

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