by Jack Buckley
Someone once told me that if you can’t say something nice, say something clever but devastating.
Niceties now exhausted, Boris Johnson and David Davies, key leaders behind the UK’s Brexit strategy, have now hit the latter stage – clever and devastating.
Regardless of your views on Brexit, the effectiveness of these two, or even whether they should have been in government in the first place, one thing is abundantly clear. Not only did Johnson and Davies resign at precisely the wrong time, they also did it in such a way that public opinion has not emerged intact.
Chuka Umunna, Labour MP for Streatham, spoke on the news that Johnson had resigned, stating: “He ran a disgusting referendum campaign, was an atrocious joke of a Foreign Secretary and resigns leaving a trail of chaos and an unholy mess he played a huge part in creating. Glad to see the back of his time in office.”
Chequers, the assumed attempt at a power move from the British Prime Minister, saw MPs brought to the country home of the sitting PM, and locked in until a decision on Brexit was made, and threatened with no transport home if they left.
The move was an attempt from May to consolidate her power-base before approaching the EU in negotiations, and was described by pundits, at least until recently, as a “very saleable political stance without bloodshed”.
Any other outcome, the Guardian columnist Martin Kettle confirmed, “would have been a disaster for Theresa May”.
So, let’s translate the events into business terms. You’ve begun a project, seen it through the teething phases, and are soon set to deliver the results of that project to colleagues in a different definition of the business. That’s despite the hurdles that have had to be navigated, and the fact that the project hasn’t turned out quite the way it was supposed to. In fact, it’s almost a different thing entirely to what’s been pitched.
Davies and Johnson have, in essence, taken this project, been told to change it to get approval, and have then immediately given responsibility to their superior before the pitch date, resigning, and have abandoned ship. It’s the stuff of anxiety dreams.
What’s clever about it is that they’ve abandoned said ship before they can be fully tarred by the Brexit brush. What’s devastating is they’ve left May holding all the cards… an ace, a joker, a three of hearts, a reverse card for Uno and Marylebone Station.
Let’s be frank. If this really happened in the business world, Johnson and Davies would never work again… news would get around, and they’d soon find themselves unemployable. Sadly, they’re in politics, and regular folk can’t cast off their corporate coils with such gusto. That is, unless they’re burning bridges as a deliberate strategy.
Johnson and Davies have done the corporate equivalent of gifting the boss a giant penis shaped cake with ‘I quit’ written on it… or at the very least, the equivalent of hiring a mariachi band and a clown to throw around confetti with ‘I quit’ printed on every sheet.
There’s something of a crib-sheet in the corporate world for people resigning from their post:
• Stick to the rules and work your notice period
• Support and mentor your replacement in getting the job done
• Write a diplomatic resignation letter
• DON’T burn bridges
• Protect your references
There are a range of lessons that can be learned here… each of which act as an important case study in what not to do when resigning from a role.
There’s good news for Boris Johnson though. It’s rumoured that if a knife suddenly appears in the back of a third Prime Minister, he wins a prize. Perhaps the ‘I quit’ confetti.