Of all the low points in Theresa May’s three tortured years in Downing Street, few were more humiliating than the moment Boris Johnson walked out of her Cabinet.
She had summoned senior ministers to the Prime Minister’s official country residence, Chequers, in July 2018 to get them to support her Brexit deal with the EU.
There were gasps of astonishment when Remainer Mrs May asked Brexit cheerleader Mr Johnson, her Foreign Secretary, to back her.
Defending her plan, which would have seen the UK tied to EU rules on goods, was like ‘trying to polish a t**d,’ he told her.
Within 48 hours he had resigned. A year later, he ousted her from No10.
Vicar’s daughter Mrs May never uses coarse language. But her rebuke to her successor in the Commons yesterday over the second lockdown was no less devastating than his rude rebuff to her at Chequers.
I’m off: Boris Johnson leaves the Commons yesterday as Theresa May, backed by Iain Duncan Smith (centre), condemns his handling of the pandemic
Showing a killer instinct sadly lacking when she was in Downing Street, she could not have delivered a greater public insult than if she stood over him and tore his coronavirus rules to shreds over his blond thatch.
The forecast of 4,000 deaths a day he had based it on ‘was wrong before it was even used’, she said.
Banning people like her from going to church set a dangerous precedent that ‘could be misused by a Government in the future with the worst intentions’.
He had not bothered to take account of the adverse effects of another lockdown on mental health, domestic abuse, non-Covid-19 illnesses, suicides and the economy.
When Mr Johnson hurled his ‘polish a turd’ jibe at Mrs May at Chequers she flashed him one of her famous ‘death stares’. It is impossible to report his reaction to her cold-blooded act of revenge yesterday.
Flouting Parliamentary protocol which requires prime ministers to show respect to their successors in the debating chamber, Mr Johnson walked out
Seconds after she stood up two rows behind him, he plonked his notes down on the green benches, cast a derisory glance at Health Secretary Matt Hancock and sidled out. Perhaps he knew what was coming.
Like the naughty schoolboy he often resembles, he was told to say sorry and wrote to her to apologise.
But if he thinks that by closing his ears to Mrs May’s message the deafening sound of the Tory revolt over his coronavirus strategy will go away, he is wrong.
One of the main reasons Tory MPs removed Mrs May and put Mr Johnson in her place was because she always seemed like a rabbit caught in the headlights.
Perhaps it should have been no surprise that a woman who said the most daring thing she had done was to ‘run through a field of wheat’ got nowhere in Brexit talks.
She always seemed to run away from confrontation with Brussels.
Mr Johnson has done a lot of things more risky in his life, politically and personally.
It is one of the reasons he replaced Mrs May and won a landslide election victory.
Unlike Mrs May, he relished taking on Brussels. And for the most part it has worked.
But that Churchillian-style clarity of purpose and self-belief have deserted him in the Covid crisis.
SIMON WALTERS: Mr Johnson has done a lot of things more risky in his life, politically and personally
Privately, he admits to having nightmares about being held personally responsible if warnings that hospitals will be overrun in the next few weeks turn out to be true.
His advisers are terrified of the ‘optics’ of people being turned away from hospitals over Christmas.
The ‘optics’ of a second lockdown are less visible because they will not be seen that quickly.
But it could be even more deadly over the long term with jobs, businesses, education and the mental and physical health of millions destroyed for a generation.
Mr Johnson has denied losing his ‘mojo’. However, in recent days, former Labour PM Tony Blair, rightly despised over the Iraq War, has displayed a more statesmanlike grasp than Mr Johnson of how to deal with Covid.
And unlikely rebel Mrs May, who left Downing Street in tears when he evicted her, has shown greater resolve.
If that doesn’t ring alarm bells in No10 I don’t know what will.
Before Mr Johnson bolted for the Commons door, Mrs May generously, and rightly, acknowledged the huge pressure he is under.
But it will take more than a new coat of polish to convince voters to believe in his latest lockdown.
Former PM tears into ‘dodgy data’ No 10 used to justify the case for lockdown as 50 Tories stage revolt in Commons
By Jason Groves Political Editor
Senior Tories including Theresa May savaged the Prime Minister’s decision to plunge England into a second national lockdown last night.
Boris Johnson was hit by a rebellion from around 50 Conservative MPs despite his warning that the draconian restrictions were needed to head off an ‘existential threat’ to the NHS.
With Labour support, legislation allowing the lockdown to take force at midnight passed with a huge majority of 478.
But the Prime Minister’s strategy was condemned by senior Conservatives including Mrs May and Sir Iain Duncan Smith.
Mrs May said the lockdown decision appeared to have been based on dodgy data, adding the prediction that Covid deaths could soar to 4,000 a day was ‘wrong before it was even used’.
The former prime minister, one of 16 Tory MPs to ignore a three-line whip and abstain on the vote, said it ‘looks as though the figures are being chosen to support the policy, rather than the policy being based on the figures’.
Mrs May added the Prime Minister had been right to reject calls for a two-week ‘circuit breaker’ in September, as it would have had to be repeated ‘possibly again and again’, causing ‘irreparable damage’ to the economy.
But she said: ‘There is a lack of data on the costs of the decisions being made. Costs in non-Covid treatment in the NHS, and in non-Covid deaths; costs in domestic abuse; costs in mental health, with possibly more suicides; and of course costs to the economy, with jobs lost, livelihoods shattered, businesses failing and whole sectors damaged.
‘The Government must have made that assessment, so let us see it and make our own judgments.’
Mr Johnson stunned MPs by walking out of the Commons chamber as his predecessor began her attack on his approach.
Downing Street later said he had to leave to attend a meeting and had written to Mrs May to apologise.
Sir Iain, one of 34 Tory MPs to vote against the lockdown, said the Prime Minister appeared to have been ‘bounced’ into ordering it at a time when there was evidence that regional restrictions were working to reduce the spread of the virus.
The former Tory leader said another lockdown would have a devastating impact, adding: ‘I hate the term “circuit breaker”.
‘It is a euphemism that is appalling. It is not a circuit breaker, it is a business breaker.
‘It is a decision that damages lives and the people who will be damaged by it will be the poorest in society because they will lose their jobs.’
Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee of Tory MPs, condemned the ‘paucity’ of the data used to justify the lockdown.
Mr Johnson tried to placate mutinous MPs by insisting the lockdown measures would expire on December 2 in time for Christmas.
In a recorded message to the Confederation of British Industry conference, he apologised for wreaking havoc on the economy again.
In the Commons, Mr Johnson refused to confirm that the lockdown would be lifted in all circumstances but said it was his clear intention to return to a regional approach after December 2.
He acknowledged a second lockdown would cause ‘pain and anxiety’ but said: ‘When I am confronted with data which projects that our NHS could even collapse, with deaths in the second wave potentially exceeding those of the first, and when I look at what is happening among some of our continental friends and see doctors who have tested positive being ordered to work on Covid wards and patients airlifted to hospitals in some other countries simply to make space, I can reach only one conclusion – I am not prepared to take the risk with the lives of the British people.’
A Tory source said last night rebel MPs would face no disciplinary action, adding: ‘The PM understands the points they are making.’
Sir Keir Starmer ordered Labour MPs to vote for the lockdown and suggested he would support it being extended if cases of the virus remained stubbornly high.
His decision meant the regulations were passed in the Commons by 516 votes to 38.