One of Boris Johnson’s closest allies has lamented the demise of “his boss and friend” and called on the Tory party to allow the outgoing Prime Minister to have “an exit with dignity”.
Northern Ireland minister Conor Burns, who was attending the 37th British-Irish Council Summit in Guernsey, spoke emotionally on Friday about the week’s events in Westminster.
Mr Burns stood in as UK representative in place of Michael Gove, who was sacked on Wednesday.
He said his meetings with the heads of state, including the First Ministers of Wales and Scotland, chief ministers, and the Irish Taoiseach, had reminded him that politics was about people and not “the machinations and psychodramas of Westminster”.
“This week’s been very difficult. You know, I was on a long journey with the Prime Minister. I was his parliamentary private secretary for a year in the foreign office. I helped him get to know MPs to get us to the point where we could ask ‘would they vote for him?’. And I played a part, I think, in helping him become Prime Minister,” Mr Burns, MP for Bournemouth, told the press conference.
“I have a feeling of great sadness that it has come to an end in this way. And sadness for him that the enormous potential we had in 2019 and winning a massive majority, the first majority of that scale for the Conservative Party since Margaret Thatcher in ‘87 – that somehow that has been brought to an end. And in a sense, that opportunity that he was given has been squandered.
“Being here after what’s been an incredibly emotionally turbulent couple of weeks seeing my boss and my friend’s prime ministerial career come to an end has served for me a really useful purpose,” he added.
“It’s absolutely reminded me why I, and why all of us, are in politics. We’re in politics not for the machinations and psychodramas of Westminster or Hollywood or wherever else. We’re in politics to do our best for the people out there that we serve.”
Mr Burns said he continued to support the Prime Minister up until the day before he agreed to stand down.
But asked if he still supports Mr Johnson, Mr Burns said: “He still has my friendship.
“I think he accepts that the position was untenable. The colleagues had reached a conclusion and they’d reached it in such numbers, that it was impossible to turn it around. I still believe that colleagues will look back and wonder, ‘what have we done?’”
On whether Mr Johnson should step aside to allow a caretaker Prime Minister to take over until his replacement is found, Mr Burns said: “I think those who wanted him gone are getting their wish. They should now give the Prime Minister the opportunity of an exit with dignity.
“I hope that the 1922 committee comes up with a very clear timeline so everybody knows what’s going on, and I hope they move at pace on that. Because the country needs a Prime Minister who has the authority to take decisions and to innovate in policy matters, given the range of challenges we face.”
Asked if he would be putting his own name forward as a candidate for the top role, he said: “Goodness me, no. I wouldn’t want to work for these people if it was the last job on earth.”
The leaders took several meetings this morning discussing issues from the cost-of-living crisis, climate change, support for the people of Ukraine, and the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Mr Burns spoke on building on relationships in Northern Ireland, with Taoiseach Micheal Martin saying he hoped to “restore” and “refresh” the relationship following Mr Johnson’s departure.