Does Johnson want to quit?

Boris Johnson has been accused of undermining PM Theresa May. Credit: AP

The conventional views about Boris Johnson's recent guerrilla raid in the Cabinet battle to shape the UK's Brexit future are:

  • 1) that he is implacably opposed to the direction of travel for our post-EU settlement being steered by the prime minister, or
  • 2) that he is deliberately destabilising the prime minister, as he did when campaigning against David Cameron in the EU referendum, in order to create a Boris-size opening at 10 Downing Street.

Actually there are many who think his Daily Telegraph Brexit manifesto was both ideological and driven by his ambition to be PM.

None of those conspiracy theories, which I hear from ministers and officials, feel quite right to me.

First, it is not at all obvious that Tory MPs want him to lead them - and he is no longer the darling of the 150,000 mostly older people who are Tory members and will have the final say on who eventually replaces May.

Or to put it another way, a leadership battle any time soon would almost certainly see him embarrassed - which he presumably knows.

Second, his position on Brexit is rather closer to May's than it is - for example - to that of the Chancellor.

Philip Hammond has particularly different views on Brexit to Boris Johnson. Credit: PA

May has repeatedly said, even this week, that Brexit means control over immigration, no role in the UK for the European Court of Justice and no big contributions to the EU's budget.

This means, as she and Johnson have repeatedly said, that the UK's future trading relationship with the EU will be qualitatively different from the current one or from some close proxy to membership of the single market - which is what Hammond wants.

For that reason, it is much more plausible that Hammond rather than Johnson would end up resigning as and when May sets in stone the detail of the "deep and special partnership" with the EU she repeatedly says she wants - and which we will learn something about on Friday in her much anticipated Florentine speech.

Which is not to say that Johnson won't quit as Foreign Sec some time soon.

When I saw him this morning in the lobby of his New York hotel, sweaty after his morning run, he was unwontedly diffident. His normal bombast was not quite there. He had shadows under his eyes.

Maybe the burdens and cares of office have caught up with him, implausible as that my seem. He looks like someone who is not enjoying his current life.

I cannot shake off the notion that his recent behaviour is that of someone who just wants out - and perhaps even he does not quite know why.