Boris v. Theresa: A Feud About. . . Water Cannons?

Many political battles are fuelled by feuds between key players, Blair and Brown, Thatcher and Heseltine. However, in the era of Brexit, one rivalry is playing out right in front of our eyes, and the most shocking part is very little about it, is actually to do with Brexit.

Yes, Boris Johnson’s current angst with Theresa May is over her Chequers Proposal, which resulted in him resigning from the cabinet as Foreign Secretary, however the feud between the two existed prior to the whole Brexit debacle.

Back in 2011, after the London riots, Boris Johnson, the then-Mayor of London wanted to prevent something like that from happening again. His idea was to use water cannon to deter protesters from coming out onto the streets — just like they do in Northern Ireland when there is sectarian skirmishes. However, Theresa May, the then-Home Secretary who’s brief including policing and security opposed this idea and said that Britain would not be acquiring water cannons to use on protesters. So what did Boris Johnson do in retaliation. . . he went and bought three second-hand water cannons from Germany.

This incident actually highlights a bigger constitutional debate, that is way beyond the prism of Johnson vs. May, which is who has the power to decide these issues. The cabinet member in-charge of policing or the directly elected Mayor of the biggest city in Europe.

These water cannons were never used, which was down to London not since having riots but also because they were not authorised for use by central government. They have since been sold off by Johnson’s successor as Mayor, Sadiq Khan.

May used this issue as a jibe against Johnson during her campaign to become Conservative party leader, when may expected the two to be the final candidates — which eventually did not occur.

The water cannon issue from the surface seems pretty minor, however it shows the clash of two personality types. The flamboyancy and big ideas of Johnson, and the technocratic cautiousness of May.

This clash of personalities was seen when Johnson was Foreign Secretary. Both have made mistakes in office, however the way in which they occurred matched these different personalities. Johnson for example, suggested that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe who was arrested in Iran was actually there for journalist purposes rather than visiting her family, resulting in her having an even longer sentence. May’s biggest mistake, other than her snap election, was her aloof response the Grenfell tragedy, which resulted in 72 deaths. May’s inaction resulted in her being heavily criticised, which shows the difference in May and Johnson’s style of politics.

Brexit obviously has played a pivotal role in the feud between the two politicians, however this distrust between two politicians who are uniquely similar in political outlook — both are one-nation conservatives and were not big fans of the Cameron project — seen with there stark disagreement over the Chequers proposal.

This disagreement has come to its height now , with Johnson jostling constantly by laying out his leadership ideas every Monday in The Telegraph, and unlike many Brexiters, he rarely uses the line that the issue is with “policy not the leader” that the likes of Mogg et, al. use.

However, it would be wrong to think the feud only emerged in the wake of Brexit, it has had a long history back to the time of Johnson’s tenure as Mayor of London and May’s time as Home Secretary. Like Blair and Brown, it’s not politics that has created this feud, its personality.

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