Owen Paterson has said that Boris Johnson’s actions are corrupt after he promoted his new book during a Cabinet meeting. The former Northern Ireland secretary said it was very unwise for the foreign secretary to be promoting himself and his book at such an important time.
Corrupt is not too strong a word, Mr Paterson told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. I think there was a possibility that Boris could have made an excellent prime minister, he’s got a lot of charisma and a great sense of humour, he said.
But kind of – for want of a better word – self-obsession, the idea that it is all about you I don’t think it has done him any good, I don’t think it has done the government any good.
Mr Paterson was sacked as environment secretary by Mr Johnson’s predecessor Theresa May in July 2016. The prime minister has not yet criticised Mr Johnson for promoting his book during a Cabinet meeting which discussed what kind of Brexit deal Britain would be seeking with the EU.
The foreign secretary read out a couple of pages to his colleagues, Mr Paterson said. He was sitting in the foreign secretary’s chair, which I think is wrong because that’s not his job at the moment.
He added: It means that when he reads from his book he gets excited and it becomes more about him than the message…I think it was a mistake, but he’s a very able guy and maybe in the book trade that’s okay.
The prime minister’s official spokesman has said: The prime minister is focused on getting the best possible Brexit deal for Britain and believes Mr Johnson is focused on making this happen.
Mr Paterson was asked whether Mrs May would be in No 10 without the support of the Democratic Unionist Party. I think she would, he said. When she stood she was one of two candidates who could actually take the party forward and thanks to her sense of duty I think she will still be prime minister for a long time because Brexit is going to dominate things for years ahead.
We are talking about trade figures in the future which run into trillions, so it is very important that we get this right. If she can do that – and I think she will be able to – her place in history becomes extremely secure.
His comments follow reports Mrs May has set out a timetable for when she plans to step down as prime minister, with insiders saying 2022 would be the ideal date for her to leave No 10.
Asked about reports she had told her most senior ministers that she wanted to quit as prime minister after delivering Brexit, Mr Paterson said he would be very surprised if Mrs May was setting a timetable.
He said: We all know Boris is positioning himself…I think it is very unwise to set a timetable. We have to deliver Brexit and we don’t want to go through another leadership contest and another general election quite so quickly, so I think it is unwise to do that.