Joan Bakewell says Stanley Johnson, like Boris, is unprincipled and he’s not dared to show his face at her book club. Brexit convert Jo Johnson is, meanwhile, trousering £4,167 a month from Switzerland.
Stanley Johnson may have told Iran’s state broadcaster Press TV that his son Boris is keen to “build bridges” with the country, but the patriarch scarcely seems to be setting much of an example when it comes to the Primrose Hill Book Club.
This little enclave of the north London chattering classes may not be in quite the same league as the despotic regime, but to Stanley it has been the bedrock of his social life for many years and it numbers among its members Dame Liz Forgan, the former chair of the Arts Council; Baroness Neuberger, the rabbi; and the broadcaster Dame Joan Bakewell, pictured.
Mandrake hears that Stanley has lately been conspicuous by his absence at their meetings, which may well be because he can’t face the wrath of these redoubtable Remainers after his conversion – coincidentally, as his son took up residence in 10 Downing Street – to the joys of Brextremism.
“I haven’t seen Stanley in a while,” Dame Joan confirms when I inquire. She also suggests he may have become persona non grata at the club. “He was a Remainer at the time of the referendum, but he’s like his son: power before principle.”
The journalist Dr Richard North – the long-time collaborator of the late Sunday Telegraph columnist Christopher Booker – has an interesting theory about Boris Johnson’s strategy for implementing the no-deal Brexit that his paymasters Sir David and Sir Frederick Barclay so dearly want.
“Bearing in mind that the current projected date for Brexit, on October 31, is a Thursday, I would not rule out Johnson actually calling an election on that day,” he says. “The very process of calling an election means that parliament is dissolved, so there’d be no opposition to a default no-deal exit, and, by the time a new government was in place, it would be too late to do anything about it – we’d be out.”
Dr North envisages Johnson spending the recess “pretending to push for new negotiations, since as long as that charade retains some credibility, it could ward off opponents, and prevent them taking formal action to stop a no-deal exit.”
As Gina Miller would no doubt point out, this does not of course factor parliamentary sovereignty into the equation.
As chair of the culture select committee when it was investigating digital misinformation during the EU referendum, Damian Collins huffed and puffed when Dominic Cummings failed to show up to to give evidence. He said he’d shown a “total disregard” for the authority of parliament.
The film director Jörg Tittel remembered all of that when he bumped into Collins at a private party in south London and asked him how he could possibly have backed Johnson for the leadership – knowing how he’d presided over the Leave campaign – and was now happy to see Cummings as his de facto chief of staff.
“Damian started to trot out the old refrain that it was all Brussels’ fault when his wife came along to tell me off and say they had every right to enjoy their Saturday night,” says Tittel. “I said we are all trying to enjoy our lives, which her spineless husband and party are busy destroying every day. So I said I’m terribly sorry if that made them uncomfortable.”
As Brexit secretary, Steve Barclay signed a transitional migration agreement with Karin Keller-Sutter of the Swiss Federal Council during her visit to the UK last month, allowing UK and Swiss citizens to continue to apply for jobs and work in each other’s countries in the event of no-deal until December 2020.
Switzerland is seen as a beneficiary of a no-deal Brexit which makes the appointment of Jo Johnson, the new minister for business, energy and industrial strategy, to the board of Noric Swiss GmbH, a Swiss engineering group, look well-timed. He’s just owned up to being paid £4,167 a month for a monthly commitment of two days.
Bewilderingly, Johnson voted Remain in the referendum, then backed Brexit by voting to trigger Article 50, and subsequently quit to campaign for a second referendum. He is now seemingly relaxed about no-deal so long as his brother Boris implements it. Quite what he and his Remainer wife – Guardian journalist Amelia Gentleman – find to talk about these days, I have no idea.