In Part One Borys admits to his innate lack of loyalty or honour in his dealings with his colleagues and the British public.
My name is Sylvie de Beauvoire. I am a French journalist working in London for the TopGuard newspaper. You may have read my previous interview in West England Bylines about the current Prime Minister’s journey to Damascus, which caused quite a stir.
For those unaware, the Apostle Paul, who started as one of Christianity’s most zealous enemies (Saul of Tarsus), was hand-picked by Jesus Christ, during his journey to Damascus. Through a revelation, and his consequent conversion, he become the gospel’s most ardent messenger. Paul travelled tirelessly through the ancient world, taking the message of salvation to the Gentiles. He towers as one of the all-time giants of Christianity.
It was a Sunday, and I was taking a late lunch at a local café near my home in London, when I received a phone call. It was not a number or voice that I recognised, but the man introduced himself as an assistant to the ex-Prime Minister. He said that Borys had talked to some of his colleagues about my previous interview with the current Prime Minister. He had been impressed by its startling impact, and asked whether I might be persuaded to interview him.
I was astonished. In fact I nearly choked on my Spritzer. My neighbouring diners looked at me warily. Yes, I could be persuaded!
We agreed that I would travel down tomorrow to Didcot, the nearest railway station to Borys’s new mansion at Brightwell-cum-Sotwell, and then take a taxi, arriving around 11am the next day. He thanked me and rang off. I finished my lunch and rang my editor while drinking my coffee.
‘Don’t tell me’, he said, ‘you’re interviewing the Pope tomorrow’.
‘Next best thing’, I replied, ‘the last-Prime-Minister-but-one’.
‘Wow, your reputation must be soaring’, he said, ‘but do take care, there are a lot of bedrooms there, and I expect there will be a lot of etchings to be viewed’.
‘Don’t worry’, I said, ‘Carrie will be there, and I shall be focussing on my interview’.
We rang off, and I went home to prepare for my big day.
The next day dawned. I chose my outfit with care. Demure, with a hint of mischief – loosely flowing auburn locks, a top with just a hint of cleavage, and a skirt a millimetre or two too tight and a millimetre or two too short. Perfect. I set off to Paddington railway station, arriving at Didcot around 10:30. Taxis were there and very soon I was driving through the lovely Oxfordshire countryside to the manor house, which was surrounded by a moat and looked very grand. Borys met me at the front door.
‘Welcome’ he said, ‘I’m delighted to meet you, I’ve heard much about you, all good, so I’m looking forward to our talk’.
I had heard about his amiability and qualities as a host, and also about his reported meanness, but I wanted to judge for myself.
‘Thanks for inviting me Mr Jvanovich, my pleasure. It looks like you have acquired a lovely house’.
‘Please call me Borys. My relatives call me Al, but everyone else calls me Borys, though Carrie has other, less complimentary names for me too. Yes, we’re very pleased with the house. I’ll show you round the downstairs, and then we can sit down in the study, where we won’t be disturbed. Carrie and the children are out meeting our new neighbours today’.
And that’s how it went. The various rooms were very spacious and well-furnished, with spectacular views over the countryside. Then we sat down in the study, and a young woman brought in some coffee on a tray. ‘This is Jennifer’, said Borys, she’s helping me put together my Shakespeare book’.
Jennifer and I smiled and nodded to each other, and Borys poured out some coffee, as Jennifer left the room. I asked permission to record the interview and Borys agreed. And so we started.
Sylvie de Beauvoire (SB): Borys, may I start by asking why you wanted me to interview you. You know I try to be honest, though I don’t go out of my way to be particularly tough. But I know you try to avoid tough interviews, is that fair?
Borys Jvanovich (BJ): In the first place, I do tend to be a big picture type of person, and I’m not always across the detail. So it is true, I do try to avoid interviewers who are persistent in trying to pin me down on elements that I can’t answer without a certain amount of blagging. I’m good at that, but it doesn’t always satisfy some interviewers, like Andrew Neil or Jeremy Paxman.
But to answer your question, you have a reputation of being fair, honest and straightforward. I like that, actually I need that because it keeps me alert and aware. I have been surrounded by quite a few toadies, so let’s hope some good will come of today.
SB: I’d like you to give me your immediate, instinctive and honest answers, without blagging and deflection if you can please. Will you do that?
BJ: I will. Please go ahead.
SB: You told David Cameron in early 2016 before the Referendum that you were going to support and lead the Leave campaign. Why did you do that, knowing it was disloyal to him and his government, and worse, that Brexit would be bad for the country? You had been reported, by Anne Applebaum of The Atlantic, as saying in 2014 that anyone would be mad to want to leave the EU. An honest answer please!
BJ: Despite my jokes in my Daily Telegraph articles about the fools in Brussels, I mainly believed in the European project. But I saw a political opportunity for a leadership role which I could exploit. I knew there was a sizeable number of Conservative MPs that wanted to leave the European Union, and I could represent them. I like being the outsider and disrupter of groupthink. I didn’t actually think we would win the referendum.
SB: Behaving loyally and honourably are not your strong suits are they? The story that you let come out, that you had written two articles for The Telegraph, one arguing the benefits of staying in the EU, and one arguing the opposite, was just distractive rubbish wasn’t it? The actual and very strong negative impacts of leaving the EU were irrelevant to your decision weren’t they, which was made purely on personal and opportunist factors? True?
SB: You were appointed Foreign Secretary by Theresa May in 2017. The Swedish Foreign Secretary said at the time ‘please tell me this is a joke’. It is an important, serious and prestigious role, yet you made a mockery of it, with various slip-shod, uninformed gaffes, attending a party without diplomatic cover in Italy attended by Russians associated with Putin, and general slipperiness. It was reported that you tried to make Carrie your Chief of Staff but were told that wasn’t possible. You were caught by an aide in a very compromising position over Carrie on a desk in your office in the Foreign Office. Is that all true?
SB: You eventually resigned as Foreign Secretary after the 2019 Chequers meeting, superficially in protest that the Brexit promise was not being fulfilled in Northern Ireland, but actually because the Brexit that May was preparing was viewed as ‘soft’ by the hard Brexiteers and you thought you could mount a leadership challenge supported by them. There was a lot of support for a softer version of Brexit in the House of Commons, but you basically scuppered all that.
You put your own ambitions ahead of your obligations to your constituents and the country, didn’t you?
BJ: Correct. I accept what you say, that I am not an honourable person. I don’t care a fig for all that stuff, but in hindsight I was wrong to behave quite as deviously and rebelliously as that.
SB: OK, honest now, at least. But a useless regret, now that your Brexit has proved such a calamity. You’re on your third marriage, you’ve had at least one child outside marriage, you dumped both Cameron and May and the government’s Europe policies in the proverbial for no good reason other than your own ambition and opportunism. Is there a single good side to your character?
BJ: Probably not. Politics can be a rough game. Superficially smooth on the outside, Machiavellian underneath. I played a rough game, true. Ambition, a roving eye, and a taste for risk has led me astray, and I’ve paid a price. I have few scruples. But a lot of people admire me.
SB: I find that explanation unethical and completely unsatisfactory, Borys. Most UK political activity over the years has been undertaken by honourable people behaving honourably, which is as it should be. They took their position as public servants responsibly. Your behaviour, on multiple occasions, has lowered public standards so much that people have lost trust in their politicians.
The country does not need jack-the-lad jokers, elected representatives who put themselves first or, to put it another way, who milk the system for their own or their party’s benefit, even in a jokey way. And you say you’ve paid a price. What about the price paid by all the people who you’ve harmed?
BJ: Ouch! That hurt. I agree there is a great deal of truth in what you say. I should thank you for putting it to me so plainly.
I do regret my weaknesses and any harm done to others, but it doesn’t keep me awake at night. To be frank, I am made that way, I can’t help myself. I was born and grew up as an exploiter of situations and people, usually with a smile or a joke or a fake promise as cover. It’s unconscious behaviour, I’ve always done that. It usually works out OK and to my advantage, which is self-reinforcing and so I keep doing it. Carrie knows that about me, but puts up with it.
SB: You say now, to me in private, that you understand your weaknesses and any harm done to others, and regret it all, and that’s commendable up to a point. But to my knowledge you haven’t ever said that in public or shown to the people you’ve harmed that you care. You haven’t admitted any mistakes, or said that you’re sorry, or that you regret what you’ve done, or that you’d like to make amends.
You have a terrible reputation among a large section of the population, and that’s the biggest reason why your political comeback is likely to fail isn’t it? People feel that they know you, and they don’t like what they see.
BJ: That’s pretty damning, Sylvie. I guess most of it is correct. I know, deep down, that I’m self-centred, greedy and have no empathy, but it’s usually convenient to ignore that. I am who I am, and I’m unlikely to change much now. Probably can’t change now. Anyway, I quite like myself as I am.
SB: Borys, I am not your therapist, personal adviser or judge. I am trying to understand you for the benefit of my readers. But what you say sounds a bit like playing the victim, which I can’t buy into. ‘Probably can’t change now?’ Anybody can change if they want to. Perhaps you should consider that.
Let’s continue with some other questions.
SB: In the House of Commons, you answered a question from the Labour MP Paula Sheriff, who was complaining that she was receiving vile messages and death threats and that your Brexit policies and use of language like betrayal and surrender was stirring up hatred in the community. You said she was talking humbug. Why did you say that?
BJ: A low point in my Parliamentary career I’m afraid. Absolutely wrong of me to call her remarks humbug. I have no excuse. My reply was ill-thought and instinctive. I should have written to her at the time and apologised, but I didn’t. I was very focussed on getting Brexit done at the time.
SB: Your writings and behaviour sometimes suggest that you have misogynist and racist tendencies, and that all your talk of ‘levelling up’ is very superficial. You don’t really care about the poorer sections of society do you? You admire wealth, wealthy people who are mostly men, the trappings of wealth, and want some of that for yourself. Hence this moated country mansion, which I assume shows that you have ’arrived’. True?
BJ: All substantially true, probably, if I’m being honest, which is what I invited you here for. But I don’t think I’m unusual in much of that.
SB: Greed and Envy are two of the seven deadly sins, as I’m sure you’re aware. There‘s nothing wrong with ambition, provided it is pursued legally and morally, but maybe you’ve gone way over the top and plumbed the depths in that regard.
Transcript paused …
Ed: End of Part One. Be sure to read Part Two out shortly.