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A Member Of Boris Johnson's Party Weighs In On His Rise To Power


Theresa May leaves the prime minister's residence at 10 Downing Street in London today and formally offers her resignation to the queen, making way for Boris Johnson to be the new prime minister of the U.K. The incoming leader was an advocate for Brexit, making extravagant promises for the money the U.K. would save. He now faces the responsibility of making it happen. And he spoke yesterday.


BORIS JOHNSON: I read in my Financial Times this morning that there are no incoming leader - no incoming leader has ever faced such a daunting set of circumstances, it said. Well, I look at you this morning and I ask myself, do you look daunted? Do you feel daunted? I don't think you look remotely daunted.

INSKEEP: We should all ask ourselves that question as we look in the mirror in the morning.

Members of Johnson's Conservative Party include James Gray, who is on the line. Welcome to the program, sir.

JAMES GRAY: Morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: I want to note that you wrote to your constituents recently that Boris Johnson, if he were elected, would be an inspirational but worrying leader. What did you mean by that?

GRAY: Well, that's certainly true. So was Churchill, of course, when he was elected to be leader of the Conservative Party. Everyone said, oh, my goodness. What a disaster. But of course, in the end, what a huge success he was.

I mean, Boris is an inspiration. The feeling in London this morning is one of enthusiasm, optimism, excitement. There's a real buzz in the air. And we really are looking forward to a new start in British politics. So, of course, inspirational - he's a great leader. He's a wonderful - terribly nice man - great man, terribly amusing, highly intelligent. This image of being a buffoon is just a load of rubbish. He is the most intelligent person I've ever come across - very, very sharp brain indeed. And he'll be a very, very good prime minister.

But of course, the risk is that he says what he thinks. And often, we in politics shouldn't do that. We ought to be much more careful with our words. We should be...

INSKEEP: Well, we should not...

GRAY: ...A little bit risky, a little bit of fun.

INSKEEP: Understand - I mean, he - you can say that he says what he thinks, but he also says things that are false. He made a claim during the Brexit campaign that Britain would save a 350-million-pounds-per-week payment that it makes to the European Union. Fact-checkers have gone into that. It includes money that Britain never pays. It includes money that Britain gets back that it'll no longer get back. It was false. Should he now be required to make good on his false promises for Brexit now that he's in charge of enacting it?

GRAY: It was not, of course, false. It was actually, if anything, an underestimate. The figure actually should be right about 390 million pounds a week. But you're quite right in saying it was the gross figure rather than the net figure. At the moment, we pay the money to the European Union. They send it back to us with tags attached to it, saying, this is for agriculture. This is for business. This is for development.

INSKEEP: And you're not going to get those payments back anymore, so it's not as much of a savings as claimed.

GRAY: No, we're...


GRAY: We won't be sending the money to Europe in the first place. We'll have that money here in Westminster, in the Parliament, being decided by the British MPs how we spend it, not by unelected bureaucrats in Brussels.

INSKEEP: Now, of course, before you get to Brexit - unless you're going to do a hard Brexit and simply go out with no new rules to replace the rules that you have - you have to come up with an agreement that would satisfy the European Union and also get through Parliament, which is something that Theresa May tried to do for a couple of years and failed to do. Do you think that Boris Johnson knows what that agreement is?

GRAY: Theresa May was a great woman, and she's a strong woman. And I appreciate the fact that we had - now had two female prime ministers, something that's never happened to America. I look forward to the first female president of America - never happened to the Labour Party. And it's great stuff. And she was a strong woman and had done a great time. But she wasn't a good negotiator at all. She started from the beginning by suggesting we were going to lose.

And what we have to do is go out there and see the Europeans - say, right, the fact of the matter is we are leaving on the 31 of October, full stop. No ifs, no buts, no maybes - we are going to leave on that day, and therefore, either we need a decent deal from you guys - but if you won't give us it or you won't renegotiate the deal, then that's it. We're out.

It won't be no deal, of course, because the 775 pages of agreement has already been made with the officials in the European Union, leaving aside the issue of the Northern Irish border, which is a technicality. Leaving that aside, most of the other things have already been agreed, and therefore, we then have a bilateral discussion with the European Union on a whole variety of details. But it would be very quick to be sorted out. Things like the rights of European citizens living in the U.K. and vice versa, things like the transit of medicines across the borders, things like the transit of nuclear fuels - these things are easily sorted out by intelligent human beings with cold towels wrapped around their heads. And...

INSKEEP: Well, of course...

GRAY: ...It wouldn't be a problem.

INSKEEP: ...You do have an agreement. And I think you're referring to agreements that failed in Parliament. So you'd have to improve that agreement from the British point of view in some way that would dramatically change the votes in Parliament. You're saying you're going to do that because you have leverage. You're going to insist you're leaving anyway. In order to have that leverage, though, you have to be willing to put Britain over the cliff with no agreement at all. Are you really willing to put your country there in order to - to take that risk in order to get a better deal than what you've got?

GRAY: Sorry to correct you, but what failed in Parliament, of course, was the deal which included this Northern Irish backstop, which would have kept us enslaved to the European Union for all time. That's what failed, and that's what we need put right.

INSKEEP: OK. But you're...

GRAY: So now is the time we can actually look forward...

INSKEEP: But you're willing to go out with no agreement if that's what it takes.

GRAY: Now is the time we can really look forward to a free and independent Great Britain, trading with the world, trading with America, reestablishing our old relationship with America and freeing ourselves from the burden of the European Union. I look forward to that, and Boris Johnson's just the man to lead us towards that great goal.

INSKEEP: Mr. Gray, you're very kind to give us your time. Thank you very much for your insights.

GRAY: Thanks a lot.

INSKEEP: That is James Gray, a Conservative Member of the Parliament in the U.K. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.