I will never forget campaigning for Boris Johnson when he first stood for parliament in North Wales in 1997. Our designated photo opportunity was in the cab of the steam locomotive on the Llangollen Railway. Left alone by the train drivers to give photographers a clear shot, he and I suddenly realised we were in charge of an accelerating train with no idea of how to stop it.
Thankfully, he has shown a clearer command of the levers of government in his first few days as prime minister than either of us had of the controls of a locomotive, and there is much for Conservatives to welcome irrespective of who we preferred as leader.
First and foremost is his communication of a vision for the future of the country. Theresa May was effective at putting Jeremy Corbyn in his place. Boris will make him hate sitting in it.
The appointment at the centre of government of ministers and advisers with far-reaching powers shows that the prime minister has a healthy appreciation of his own strengths and weaknesses. Michael Gove is the best minister we have at running a department, and he is the right choice to chair daily meetings on Brexit preparations. And Dominic Cummings might be a highly controversial figure but will exert a more disciplined control of the government’s political message and network of advisers than Boris would have the taste for ensuring himself.
The combination of Sajid Javid and Rishi Sunak at the Treasury indicates that this most crucial of departments will be a centre of innovative thinking and openness to ideas.
It was, however, also in the naming of the Cabinet that some seeds of future trouble were unnecessarily sowed. Several incumbent ministers were excluded because they could not subscribe to the new approach to Brexit — fair enough. But alongside them were experienced ministers who were doing a good job and could have been very useful allies in the tempestuous weeks to come.
When Boris sat down with Ruth Davidson, he was looking into the eyes of the only serving Conservative politician with a proven ability to transform the party’s fortunes. Even now, not everyone south of the border appreciates the scale of her achievement, turning a moribund Scottish Tory Party into the principal opposition to the nationalists and gaining an additional 12 seats at Westminster in the last general election. Without that dramatic change, Corbyn could have nosed his way into No 10 with SNP support.
No one in politics thinks the Tory revival would have happened without this plain speaking, down to earth, unconventional woman who has changed profoundly the views of disaffected Scottish voters about what it means to be a Conservative. Yet, she was sufficiently alarmed about what a Boris premiership might bring that she supported not one but three of the other leadership candidates in turn, only to see each eliminated. Faced with a Cabinet now assuming that there will be a no-deal Brexit, she is clear that she is against that.
The delicate state of the Union has always been the strongest argument for leaving the EU with a deal
The delicate state of the Union has always been the strongest argument for leaving the EU with a deal. It is the single most powerful reason that various options for reaching a new agreement with EU leaders should not have been written off during the leadership hustings.
Boris seems sufficiently self-aware to know that it is the weakest point of the Brexit case. He has rushed to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland bearing gifts and enjoyed ridiculing the SNP for wanting to give control of Scottish fishing waters back to Brussels. Yet there is a serious risk that the strong assertion of British identity represented by Brexit could also bring that identity to an end. No one can know what the consequences would be after October 31, but we do know that nationalists across the United Kingdom see this as their biggest ever opportunity.
The prime minister is determined to deliver the full independence of the UK and his vision of its future, but he most certainly does not want to be the last person to lead a government of all of it. That should mean Davidson has a strong place in his counsels and confidence. In a government that has shown encouraging signs of spirit, ideas and unity of command, the dangerous combination of a rupture with Europe and a fragile Union is the greatest of all challenges.
— The Telegraph Group Limited, London, 2019
William Hague is the former foreign secretary of the UK.