Boris Johnson lines up hardline eurosceptic Daniel Moylan to run his Brexit policy

Peter Foster
Daniel Moylan - Geoff Pugh

Boris Johnson has appointed a combative eurosceptic to run his EU divorce policy, the Telegraph can reveal, in a sign that supporters of a clean-break Brexit with infrastructure on the Irish border are now in the ascendancy on his leadership team. 

Daniel Moylan, a former senior Johnson lieutenant during his days as London Mayor and Kensington and Chelsea councillor, has been an implacable opponent of both Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement and the Irish backstop. 

The 63-year-old’s appointment was met with a mixed reception among more moderate Brexiteers who have backed Mrs May’s deal, with one MP from that group observing that “we really are doomed” if Mr Moylan was in charge.

However, Brexiteers welcomed Mr Moylan as a breath of fresh air in the Brexit debate and a clear sign that Mr Johnson was serious about his promise to leave the EU on October 31 with or without a deal. 

“We have seen in the past that if you try to accommodate both sides and sit on the fence you get splinters, so I very much welcome this stronger approach,” said one pro-Brexit Conservative MP.

Since the EU referendum, Mr Moylan was a waspish presence on Twitter, frequently clashing with anyone who backed the May deal or the Irish backstop - until he deleted his account last week, apparently in preparation for the new role.

Mr Moylan’s installation as a senior Brexit adviser in Mr Johnson’s campaign has coincided with a hardening of position which culminated this week with the warning that even if the Irish agreed to time-limit the backstop it would not be sufficient to pass the deal.

A source close to Mr Johnson sought to play down the appointment, and said Mr Moylan could be one of several senior Brexit advisers, adding that no decision on jobs in a future administration had been taken. 

The shift to a harder ‘bin the backstop’ approach is in keeping with Mr Moylan’s trenchant criticism of the May deal for - as he saw it - dividing the United Kingdom and sinking its bid for an independent trade policy.

“At a visceral level, it really is about how we see our country,” he wrote on the Brexit Central website earlier this year. “Are we going to keep the United Kingdom together? And what sort of trading country do we want to be once we leave the EU?”

Interestingly - and perhaps in a sign of where Mr Johnson’s real bottom line on the backstop may lie - Mr Moylan did say that if the backstop was “rendered time-limited or terminable at the sole discretion of the British government” it could be acceptable.

However Mr Moylan’s positions on the question of the Irish border points to the rising risk of a head-on collision with the Irish government if Mr Johnson, as expected, becomes Prime Minister next week. 

Mr Moylan was an early and vocal critic of Mrs May’s decision to guarantee that there would be “no infrastructure” or “related checks and controls” at the Irish border after Brexit - a pledge Mr Johnson’s backers now want to dilute.

Instead Mr Moylan argued in September 2018 that, while mindful of the “legitimate anxieties of the Republic and Irish Nationalists”, Ireland should accept a “a minimally visible trade border” in Ireland - the very thing Dublin says it is determined to prevent.

And in an echo of the implicitly threatening approach towards Dublin in recent weeks from some Brexiteer factions loyal to Mr Johnson, Mr Moylan noted in the same Brexit Central article that: “Economically at least, the Republic has a profound interest in finding a way out of the impasse.” 

It is not clear what role Mr Moylan will take in any new Johnson administration, whether a behind-the-scenes policy adviser, strategy director or frontline negotiator - but he has little experience of any role at that level.

As a former deputy leader of Kensington and Chelsea council, Mr Moylan tried on several occasions to be selected for the plum parliamentary seat once held by the Tory luminaries like Alan Clark and Michael Portillo, but that was abolished in 2010. 

He failed each time, but in 2010 the Evening Standard declared Mr Moylan to be one of the capital’s “most powerful and colourful politicians” in a pen portrait.

Mr Moylan served as Mr Johnson’s chief aviation adviser when the Tory was London mayor, lobbying for a new airport to be built on the Thames estuary in lieu of a third runway at Heathrow. 

During the 2012 Olympics he was also chairman of the London Legacy Development Corporation, which operated the Olympic Park. 

The two men appear to be fond of each other. Mr Moylan said of his boss in 2012: “Working for Boris is the most fantastic and life-enhancing experience and I love every minute of it.”

Mr Johnson, meanwhile, said of him: “Daniel Moylan is a gifted politician with a superb brain."

Conservative Party leadership candidate Boris Johnson eats an ice cream as he visits Barry Island in Wales Credit: Getty 

However one former acquaintance of Mr Moylan described him as a “classic courtier type” who was essentially a “little-leaguer” who would be “eaten for breakfast” by serious diplomats. 

“Boris put him in charge of his estuary airport campaign. Parallels are terrifying,” the source added.

In December 2018, Mr Moylan took part in a Brexit panel discussion with the Institute for Government, which may offer further clues as to the tone and content of the next Government’s strategy. 

He said he would like to “ban analogies” in the Brexit discussion, such as the well worn divorce trope, as they did not suit the complexity of the subject, while he also warned against resorting to hyperbole.

Rejecting claims that Brexit had turned into the UK’s biggest crisis since the Second World War, he responded: “This is not a moment of national crisis, the economy is doing quite well, most people’s lives will be absolutely fine. This is a parliamentary muddle.”

Unlike Mr Johnson, he stopped short of scrapping the Withdrawal Agreement in its entirety. 

With a hint of Johnsonian rhetoric, he said: “I would like to see a proper Withdrawal Agreement that divvies up assets and agrees citizens rights but does not contain insulting Carthaginian sovereignty-imposing things about Northern Ireland.” 

He also ruled out the so-called Norway option as “sort of dead,” and predicted that campaigning for a second referendum would go “in a similar trajectory” as neither option in his view honoured the referendum result. 

During one BBC interview he complained that “we have given all our cards away by signing the Withdrawal Agreement,” and that as a result the UK risked “taking dictation” from Brussels on what the future trading relationship should look like. 

Mr Moylan served as deputy leader of Kensington and Chelsea council for 11 years.

After the Grenfell tower disaster, he admitted in an emotional interview with the BBC that he felt “a sense of shame” over the council's failure to listen to residents and called on its Tory leader to resign. 

Mr Moylan was a prolific user of the social media network Twitter until he deleted his account earlier this month.

A handful of screenshots of his tweets offer some insight into his views on the current Conservative cabinet  and his strong support for Mr Johnson. 

In May 2019, he had an angry exchange with Sajid Javid, the  Home Secretary, who had tweeted his disappointment with the EU election results and the implications for the Government’s Brexit policy. 

Mr Moylan replied: “But what did you do, up on the bridge, to stop her steering the ship onto the rocks? The whole cabinet has to answer for this.”

And in August, Mr Moylan appeared to side with Mr Johnson in the row over his controversial Daily Telegraph column in which he compared women who wear the niqab to “letterboxes.”

Mr Moylan tweeted: “How should we respond to a person who covers their face in a social or office setting? Personally I won’t engage.”