The International Trade Secretary expresses his scepticism to Andrew Bridgen.
“They’re not going to renegotiate the withdrawal agreement…but how do you operate it in a way that’s acceptable to both sides?”
Tony Connelly describes in painful detail the success of Irish negotiators in aligning themselves with the EU27, while leaving the Brits to flounder.
Boris Johnson expressed enthusiasm for this book when interviewed the other day by ConHome, though I have just listened to the tape again, and find he must have done so after I turned it off.
We were discussing how much better prepared ministers and officials in Dublin were for Brexit than their opposite numbers in London.
Connelly, who lives in Brussels and has been reporting on Europe for RTE for the last 17 years, unfortunately provides ample evidence for this view. The Irish knew the referendum held on 23rd June 2016 could go either way and prepared accordingly.
I recall hearing a lucid and persuasive speech by Dan Mulhall, then Irish Ambassador in London, now their man in Washington, at an Irish Embassy reception, in which he outlined the devastating effects which Brexit could have not only on the Irish economy, but on relations between the Republic and the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland.
It was plain then that there was a conservative, or Burkean, case for remaining in the EU, as an imperfect accretion of laws and customs which although impossible to defend in strict democratic theory, were in some ways well adapted to the circumstances of Irish and British politics.
At the start of Connelly’s account, the Irish Prime Minister, Enda Kenny, tries to warn David Cameron that
“referendums are different to general elections. People don’t fear the consequences of a general election. We have some experience of this kind of thing.”
Dublin had a few years before held a second referendum on the Lisbon Treaty in order to undo the rejection of it in the first. Micheal Martin, the Leader of Fianna Fail, who ran the campaign in the second referendum, says they learned a lot from their exhaustive research into what went wrong first time round, and realised the message now had to be:
“We’ve heard you, we’ve listened to you, we’ve done the changes because of your message.”
It is not clear the advocates of a second referendum on this side of the Irish Sea have realised they need a message like that. If they are not careful, they will be found to be telling the British people, “We have not listened to you, and consider you to be a lot of ignorant fools who had better now do exactly as we tell you.”
After the British voted for Brexit, Irish ministers became frustrated by jockeying in London between Boris Johnson, Liam Fox and David Davis, and the consequent inability to determine the British Government’s position:
“Worse than the jockeying was the fact that they had different messages. That was of no use to us. We were trying to establish what exactly they wanted.”
There had been no preparatory analysis in London of the problems Brexit would pose and the choices which would need to be made. Nor did Irish leaders find, when they met Theresa May, that she was communicative. “She was very, very cautious,” as an Irish official puts it.
At the outset, the Irish expected to solve some difficulties through bilateral talks with the British Government, and others by negotiating as part of the EU 27 with London. But by the end of 2016, as Connelly relates,
“The Irish government was realising that if Irish and European Commission officials were working away diligently, scoping out technical solutions, looking at ways of getting around customs checks and requirements regarding animal health, food safety and rules of origin as a way to soften the Irish border, then the main beneficiary was the UK.
“Having come to this realisation, the Irish undertook a subtle distancing from London. It began at the end of 2016 and was increasingly discernible in the first part of 2017.”
The Irish stopped trying to solve the British Government’s problems, notably over the Northern Ireland border, and instead aligned themselves completely with the EU 27. As Connelly puts it,
“There would be two steps: fully apprising the EU of the complexities of the Northern Ireland peace process, and then turning the Irish position into the European position.”
Michel Barnier already has considerable experience of the complexities of Northern Ireland politics, for as an EU Commissioner he oversaw between 1999 and 2004 “the spending of 531 million euros in EU funding for Northern Ireland under the PEACE II programme, as well as tens of millions of euros in regional and structural payments”.
The EU became a kind of imperial power (not a word used by Connelly), more trusted, or at least more accepted, because it was more remote, and seemed therefore more neutral. Barnier sees himself as a benevolent proconsul: “He spoke fondly about the 13 million euro Peace Bridge in Derry, part funded by Brussels.”
The Irish are brilliant at manipulating the imperial power, while the British, having quite recently been an imperial power themselves, are enraged by its claim of ultimate authority, and have voted to liberate themselves. How one wishes the late lamented T.E.Utley, blind seer of The Daily Telegraph, could bring his wisdom to bear on these paradoxes. Who now in the London press has any understanding of, let alone sympathy with, Ulster Unionism in its various manifestations?
In Brussels, the Irish lobbied Barnier’s Task Force intensively. As a source tells Connelly,
“The Irish had privileged access… For other stakeholders the criteria had to be that it was a pan-European association… The Irish came well prepared, and with a wish-list. They were impressively well prepared… A number of them could have worked for the Task Force straight away.”
The Irish had done their homework, and knew what they wanted. The British had not done their homework, appeared to want to have their cake and eat it, and found themselves steered towards the major problem which emerged in November 2017, when they were told that in order to avoid a hard border, Northern Ireland will have to remain de facto inside the single market and the customs union.
Connelly’s book is almost 400 pages long, first appeared in 2017 and was updated in May this year. It contains some vivid reporting about the threat posed by Brexit to the Irish beef, lamb, milk, cheese, fish, mushroom, duck and racing industries. For the general reader, it contains too much.
From September 2017, “gruelling sessions” were held in Brussels to examine how the 142 different dimensions to North-South co-operation on the island of Ireland relate, if at all, to EU law. Even to read about this stuff is quite gruelling. As a reporter, one has to get to grips with at least some of the detail, then cultivate people who are prepared to tell one what it all means, and Connelly clearly has an admirable range of Irish and Brussels sources.
For the British reader, it is painful to be reminded at such length that under May’s insultingly opaque leadership, our Government has never worked out how to operate as a team, for a long time did not get to grips with the detail, and then did not realise what it meant, or at least refused to be candid about what it meant, until very late in the day, and is in many ways not being candid now.
The trouble with not being candid with the wider world is that there is then a temptation not even to be candid with oneself.
We have the full list from the New Progressive Democratic Liberal National Coalition Party – including a three-way Northern Ireland jobshare.
Prime Minister: Lord Osborne of the West Kensington Powerhouse.
Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the Lords: Lord Blair of Basra.
Foreign and European Secretary: Lord Mandelson of Foy and Hartlepool.
Home Secretary: Baroness May of Maidenhead.
Chancellor of the Exchequer: Michael Gove.
Defence Secretary: Jeremy Hunt.
Business and Equalities Secretary: Keith Vaz.
Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary: Dominic Grieve.
Health Secretary: Dr Sarah Wollaston.
Education Secretary: Angela Rayner.
Work and Pensions Secretary: Yvette Cooper.
Local Government Secretary: Liam Fox.
Environment Secretary: Barry Gardiner.
Transport and HS2 Secretary: Lord Adonis.
Culture and Beauty Secretary: Sir John Hayes.
International Development Secretary: Vince Cable.
Chief Secretary to the Treasury: Sajid Javid.
Scottish Secretary: Alistair Carmichael.
Welsh Secretary: Stephen Kinnock.
Northern Ireland Secretary: Sylvia Hermon, Leo Varadkar, Martin Selmayr (jobshare).
Also attends Cabinet –
Attorney General: Keir Starmer.
Chief Whip: Tom Watson.
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Chair of the New Progressive Democratic Liberal National Coalition Party): Amber Rudd.
Lord Privy Seal (Cabinet Office): John Healey.
Deputy Foreign Secretary: Anna Soubry.
Deputy Home Secretary: Chuka Umanna.
– – –
- The Department for Exiting the European Union and the Department for International Trade have been abolished.
- This makes room for two of three Ministers undertaking the Northern Ireland jobshare.
Not for the faint-hearted. Contains intense violence, blood and gore, strong language and Philip Hammond.
Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.
The aftermath of Chequers saw the ratings of every single Cabinet member fall. It was its worst collective performance to date. But it is a measure of how shocking our latest monthly results are that those members would be justified in tumbling to their knees – and begging for those post-Chequers results to be resurrected.
Then, six Cabinet Ministers were in negative territory: Brandon Lewis, Greg Clark, Julian Smith, Chris Grayling, Philip Hammond…and Theresa May.
Now, they are joined by Jeremy Wright, David Gauke, Claire Perry, David Lidington, Liam Fox, Amber Rudd – on her return to the top table – Caroline Nokes, Andrea Leadsom, Karen Bradley and, on his debut, by Steve Barclay. Unsweet sixteen.
Yes, that’s sixteen Ministers in the red, rather than six – outnumbering the 13 of its members who get into the black, some of them by tiny margins. No fewer than seven ministers have positive ratings of lower than ten points: James Brokenshire, Gavin Williamson, David Mundell, Alan Cairns, Damian Hinds and, yes, the mighty Michael Gove, who topped the table as recently as June.
Geoffrey Cox led the pack with a 67.5 approval rating last month. He is still top, but his rating is down by about a third. Ditto, roughly, the table’s other top performers, if that label can be used in the same sentence as this dismal return.
And never mind the ratings – look at the falls. Liam Fox was at 35, but is now in negative territory. Andrea Leadsom’s score follows a similar pattern. Penny Mordaunt hasn’t publicly defended the deal. Maybe that’s why she’s still in the black. Just about.
So is there any good news for anyone at all? It depends what you mean. Theresa May’s rating was actually lower after Chequers, but her scores are still horrible: – 48.1 then, – 42 this month (she was – 42.3 last month, since you ask). However, Philip Hammond is at -46.7, which must be a new low, even for him.
Ruth Davidson would have cause to think, as she gives Baby Finn a cuddle: what’s the point of coming back?
“The divisions of the referendum need to be consigned to the past. Now is the time to…lead our country to a future of freedom, success, and prosperity.”
Liam Fox, Secretary of State for International Trade, gave the following speech today at the Royal Portbury Dock.
It’s a pleasure to be here this morning at the Royal Portbury Dock.
As MP for North Somerset, as well as Secretary of State for International Trade, it’s fair to say I have a significant interest in the success of a venture that supports more than 500 jobs in my constituency.
And I can’t help but notice that business is booming.
At the time of the referendum, we were told that just voting to leave the EU would cause such an economic shock that we’d lose half a million jobs, our investors would desert us, and we would require an emergency budget to deal with the ensuing fiscal imbalance.
What’s happened since? We’ve added over 700,000 jobs to the economy, with more people finding work than at any time in the past 40 years.
This upward trajectory shows no signs of slowing. Indeed, the OBR has calculated that we can add another 800,000 jobs without creating inflationary pressure, because there’s still slack in the economy.
In 2017 we saw total UK exports rise by 10.9% compared with 2016.
And what did we sell? We sold almost £50 billion worth of mechanical machinery, £41 billion worth of motor vehicles, £16 billion worth of aircraft and £14 billion worth of medical equipment.
And, as I have to mention on St Andrew’s Day, some £4.3 billion of Scotch Whisky.
So much for Britain not making anything anymore. And that’s before we even consider our world-leading services sector.
Clearly, the vote to leave the European Union has not had the catastrophic effect on our economy that was predicted. Quite the reverse.
Now is the time to raise our sights, and acknowledge that there is a world beyond Europe, and a time Beyond Brexit.
My Department for International Trade exists to look to this world, and plan for that time. Perhaps more than any other part of government, we are mandated to look beyond the process of leaving the EU and to prepare for the open, global future that lies ahead.
The referendum settled the question of our departure from the European Union and our manifesto made clear that we will leave the Customs Union and the Single Market as we do so.
The IMF has predicted that 90% of global growth in the next 5 years will originate outside the EU. So the question is, where do we, as a nation, position ourselves to take advantage of the opportunities that this growth will produce.
Future relationship with the EU
The government has made clear that we want to take a balanced approach to the question of our future trading prospects. We need to maximise our access to the EU market but without damaging our potential to benefit from emerging trade opportunities in other parts of the world.
The 27 nations of the European Union constitute some of our largest trading partners. As a whole, some 44% of this country’s exports of goods and services still go to the EU, although that proportion has been declining over the past decade or so.
The withdrawal agreement, and the political declaration on the future relationship, have put us on the verge of securing a deal with the European Union.
It is a deal that delivers on the result of the referendum, ending vast payments to Brussels, and giving the UK control over our own borders for the first time in a generation.
Of course, the end of free movement does not mean the end of immigration. The UK is always open to those who want to work hard and build a life here. But now, we can offer a level playing field, ensuring that we can admit the people we need to meet business demand, wherever they come from – so it won’t matter if you were born in Marseilles, Memphis or Mumbai. The key difference is that we will set the rules according to what we believe is best for our own country.
Above all else, the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration provide the stability and certainty that businesses crave, as well as a firm foundation on which to continue to operate across the EU.
The political declaration proposes the creation of a free trade area for goods, combining deep regulatory and customs co-operation with no tariffs, no fees, charges or quantitative restrictions across all goods sectors.
This would be the first such agreement between an advanced economy and the EU, a recognition of the unique position of the UK and our economy to those of our European partners.
Ambitious arrangements have been made in the political declaration for services and investment, arrangements that go well beyond WTO commitments and build on recent EU FTAs.
And an arrangement on financial services, grounded in the economic partnership, provides greater cooperation and consultation than is possible under existing third country frameworks.
But we have also been clear that our future relationship with the EU would recognise the development of an independent UK trade policy and not tie our hands when it comes to global opportunities.
We have set out an approach which means the UK would be able to set its own trade policy with the rest of the world, including setting our own tariffs, implementing our own trade remedies, and taking up our independent seat at the World Trade Organization.
Perhaps most importantly, during the implementation period, my department will have the freedom to negotiate, sign and ratify new trade agreements. . The Withdrawal Agreement means that, from the 29th of March next year, we can begun to build closer commercial relationships with our closest allies, such as the US, New Zealand and Australia, as well as laying the groundwork for improved market access for UK companies to key global growth economies.
As some of you may know, we recently carried out extensive public consultations on our future FTAs with those three nations, as well as on the UK’s potential accession to the Trans-Pacific Partnership – known as CPTPP.
Leaders across these nations have been clear in their endorsement of future trade agreements with the UK.
As Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan put it, we would “be welcomed with open arms”. Far from being isolated, Britain will be an ‘in-demand’ trading partner.
Over 14 weeks, we asked businesses, organisations and individuals to tell us what they needed from these FTAs, and how the Department for International Trade can help them to thrive internationally.
The response rate was phenomenal, far exceeding all expectations.
Above all, the exercise demonstrated the interest that exists in the shape of the UK’s future trade policy, right across the country.
How do we take advantage of this groundswell of interest and engagement from businesses and individuals?
The answer is to harness that enthusiasm to boost exports and attract investment to this country. Clearly, businesses the length and breadth of Britain are eager to move into new markets overseas.
If we want Britain to become a global exporting superpower, all we have to do is unlock that potential.
Even before we get to new trade opportunities afforded by new trade agreements there are still considerable export opportunities for British businesses to exploit in existing markets. We still have ground to make up on our international competitors in many of these countries.
Our new Export Strategy, published in August, is an important first step to doing just that.
I won’t exhaust you with the detail. But suffice to say that the Export Strategy represents one of the most comprehensive export packages offered to businesses anywhere in the world, designed to inform, connect, encourage and finance exporting opportunities for businesses of all sizes.
There are currently over 24,000 live export and investment opportunities on our website. Put simply, the world wants what Britain is selling. Businesses large and small can find these real-time opportunities at great.gov.uk.
Royal Portbury Dock
And the Royal Portbury Dock where we now stand is a perfect example of the dynamic, global outlook that hundreds of thousands of British businesses have already embraced.
In 1991 the dock was owned and managed by Bristol Council, and it was regarded as a ‘white elephant’.
Since the port was privatised almost 30 years ago and reborn as the Bristol Port Company, over £500 million has been invested to turn this into one of the most capable and advanced ports in the United Kingdom.
Each year, the Bristol Port Company handles some 750,000 motor vehicles, 27% of UK aviation fuel imports, 10% of coal imports, and more than 6 million tons of bulk dry goods.
In all, the work done here at Portbury, and at Avonmouth, contributes over £1 billion to the British economy. Now that is something to be proud of.
Integrated imports and exports
This port, and dozens like it across the UK, shows that the UK’s global commercial footprint is not just about what we sell overseas, but also what we import into this country.
It is crucial in ensuring that competition provides consumers with greater choice and at affordable prices.
But in a highly integrated economy it would also be wrong to ignore the huge and necessary role that imports play in the production of goods and services for export – some 23% of all UK exports have some added value or component that originated as an import.
Less than half of this value added originates in EU countries. And it shows how the United Kingdom is already closely linked to global value chains, that extend far beyond the boundaries of Europe.
In the long-term, a global future for an economy as large, diverse and interconnected as ours was inevitable. Our departure from the EU, combining an open, comprehensive trade relationship there, with the possibility of creating new trading relationships elsewhere is the next phase of that journey.
WTO/The changing world of trade
Internationally, of course, a wholesale revolution in the patterns of trade has already arrived. The tectonic plates of global commerce are shifting under our feet. Our future FTAs are hugely important – not least because they are strategic as well as economic tools – but in the long run, it is not what we do unilaterally, or even bilaterally, that will make the biggest difference.
Instead, it is working to update and improve the rules-based international system that governs global trade.
How the multilateral trading environment develops will almost certainly be the most crucial determinant of the degree of trade liberalisation that will occur and consequently the scale of future opportunities.
This is an area in which the UK will play a pivotal role. The world’s fifth-largest economy taking its seat at the WTO, as a powerful and unabashed defender of free trade, will be a key moment for the United Kingdom. It is one of the most important, if seldom mentioned, aspects of Brexit.
With 164 full members, the WTO is the home of the rules-based international system, and the crucible of free and fair global trade.
Yet even they will admit that their current rules are in need of updating.
The fundamental framework of the WTO’s rules has not changed substantially since 1995. A time before the widespread use of business email. A time before internet banking. A time before data became a valuable traded commodity, like cars and steel.
Consider this: back in 1995, if I asked you whether the digital code that I have sold you on the internet to make something on your 3D printer counts as a good or a service, you wouldn’t even begin to understand the question, let alone be able to answer it!
This is an example of how the real economy has moved and outgrown the rules and regulations that still attempt to govern it.
It’s not just the architecture of the WTO itself that needs reform, but also the regulatory framework, which must be flexible enough to move with the new realities of the global economy, updating itself in real time.
The Prime Minister acknowledged this recently in a speech at the Guildhall when she observed that goods as a proportion of UK and global commerce are declining.
This will be a priority as she attends the G20 in Argentina, where she will hold trade talks with world leaders including Argentinian President Macri. The leaders are expected to agree the first ever UK Trade Envoy for the country.
And as the proportion of trade in goods declines, the digital and knowledge economy are racing ahead, as new products and services emerge from the disruption that technology has left in its wake.
The future of world trade has already arrived, and the United Kingdom is ideally prepared to realise all the opportunities of the digital age and embrace the possibilities of communications technology as a commercial tool.
To take just one example, a higher proportion of retail spending takes place online in the UK than anywhere else on earth. More than China or the USA. More than South Korea. More than Japan.
Recent research by PayPal found that in the 12 months to July, 1 in 7 online shoppers globally had bought goods from the UK – more than any other European country.
In fact., overall, they found that the UK was the third most popular country in the world from which to buy goods online, behind only the US and China.
There are few countries that are as prepared for the coming digital economic revolution as the United Kingdom.
The world’s investors already know this – last year, the UK tech sector attracted more venture capital investment than Sweden, France and Germany combined.
The simple fact is that this country is already a genuine world-leader in fields from artificial intelligence, to digital and data trade, to e-commerce and FinTech.
In the knowledge economy, Britain’s shelves are already stacked with what the world wants to buy.
This is not to say that we are falling behind in goods. On the contrary, those same factors that have made us a global powerhouse of the digital economy have enabled us to retain the cutting-edge of advanced manufacturing.
For example, 17% of all the aerospace products sold in the entire world come from the United Kingdom.
Nearly half of the world’s planes are flying on wings that have been designed, engineered or assembled within just a few miles of where we are today, either in Filton or across the water in Wales.
And how do these wings reach their customers in every corner of the world? They are shipped on specialised ferries from right here in the Royal Portbury Dock.
The world beyond Europe, and the future beyond Brexit, starts right here.
And if you want to know if the world has confidence in this new Global Britain, then look at our investment record and see where global investors are choosing to put their money.
According to UNCTAD, in the first 6 months of 2018 the UK was second only to China in terms of FDI, ahead of the United States and data published by Ernst and Young showed that all parts of the UK and all England regions are benefiting with around 50,000 jobs created as a result.
In the 19th Century, Britain became the world’s first free-trading nation. In the 20th century, we helped to design and create the architecture of global trade.
And in the 21st, we will help reshape the rules-based international system through our independent trade policy.
Today I can announce that in April, when we become an independent trading nation once more, I will push for three key things:
Firstly, the UK will aim to revolutionise the rulebook on digital trade. The existing framework of international trade is vitally important to the functioning of the global economy. Yet, as we have seen, all too often its rules are outdated and unfit for purpose, acting as a brake on the digital economy.
There are too many innovative, rapidly growing companies who find it too difficult to operate overseas because of ridiculous barriers like unjustified server localisation requirements.
Our ambition is to negotiate agreements that go further on digital trade than ever before.
To join those agreements, such as the CPTPP, which take digital seriously.
And to work in coalition with other like-minded countries to drive reform on digital services at the WTO.
Secondly, we will put services at the heart of our trade policy.
The mass liberalisation that has reduced barriers on global goods trade, has never been mirrored for services. Yet the UK is an 80% services economy and has huge comparative advantage across the service sectors, from accountancy and legal, to science, research and development.
Services are a huge part of our present, and will be a larger part of our future, and we must play to our strengths, creating partnerships with countries around the world who want what we have to offer.
This is our commitment to the British SMEs of today, so that they can become the digital giants of the future.
And thirdly, we will continue to fight trade protectionism and improve international economic co-operation.
This is not something that Britain will be doing alone. As the political declaration with the EU says, our unique relationship with the EU 27 will ensure that we can work together to improve global trade, while continuing to develop and operate our own independent trade policy.
But our steadfast commitment to the philosophy and practice of free trade is an irreducible element of what we believe and who we are.
The withdrawal agreement and the political declaration will not please everyone, and we have had some tough choices to make. Choices which many in Parliament, on both sides of the House, are yet to face up to.
But the deal we’ve reached will give us a firm and stable base on which to leave the EU and build this country’s global future, a future that still encompasses Europe, of course, but also the wide fast-growing markets beyond, with all the opportunity that entails.
We will maximise our post-Brexit opportunities by helping British businesses take advantage of the considerable untapped potential of existing markets.
We will use our independent trade policy to negotiate new trade agreements and we will use our ability to act independently at the WTO to shape the global trade environment of the future, defending the open, free and fair trade that is crucial to the elimination of poverty, the nurturing of stability and the building block of our collective security.
We are well prepared for the future of world trade. We are embracing all the possibilities of the digital economy.
No other country has the same combination of fundamental strengths that will allow us to thrive in an age where knowledge and expertise are the instigators of success. Our recent export and investment performance show that sceptics have been wrong. Britain is flourishing.
The divisions of the referendum need to be consigned to the past. Now is the time to set aside our differences, and lead our country to a future of freedom, success, and prosperity.
In politics we cannot always have the luxury of doing what we want for ourselves, but we have an abiding duty to do what is right for our country.
May won’t yield to their demand for renegotiation unless she believes that at least some of them will quit. And on the basis of last week, why would she?
Each politician has his or her own ideals, ambitions, strengths, weaknesses, hopes, fears. It follows that the more MPs there are involved in a scheme, the more likely these qualities are to clash and collide, like particles in an experiment. The discipline of party or government is usually required to keep politicians marching in step – and that includes Cabinet Ministers.
Which brings us to the five who want Theresa May to renegotiate aspects of her draft deal. One might assume that Ministers as senior as Liam Fox, Michael Gove, Chris Grayling, Andrea Leadsom and Penny Mordaunt, when banded together, carry the authority of the Government with them. But in this case, they do not. It rests with Theresa May. She is Prime Minister. The Cabinet is her Cabinet. She controls its agenda. She shapes the minutes.
This is why she was able to see off last week’s Cabinet push to get her to renegotiate the deal. There are no votes round the Cabinet table, as Esther McVey discovered. There is no loyal Opposition. Cabinet decisions may not be unanimous but they are, to use a word that May deployed herself, collective. If a Cabinet Minister is opposed to one to the point where he cannot live with it, his only course is to resign – as McVey and Dominic Raab duly did in the meeting’s wake.
Only when a Prime Minister has lost her power do Cabinet Ministers gain more of it than she has. This, notoriously, was the case when Margaret Thatcher was forced out. She had beaten off a leadership challenge, but not by enough to maintain her command. Her successor could be in a situation similar, or worse, by the end of the coming week. But she is not there yet, if she ever will be. While she would be foolish to sack any of the five – her powers are not limitless – her grip is for the moment tenuous, but real.
She will also have a shrewd grasp of the position of each of the five. She won’t read Liam Fox as a resigner. Nor Chris Grayling. Michael Gove backed her plan very reluctantly in Cabinet, has tried to persuade her to change it, pondered resignation…but not resigned. It would be difficult for him now to go. That leaves Andrea Leadsom and Penny Mordaunt, perhaps the most likely of the five to walk (though one never knows). But that tangle of motives may divide them, which opens the door to divide and rule.
In short, the threat of resignation is ultimately the only device likely to make May yield to their push. And she will surely be thinking that if none of them quit last week, then why would any of them do so this week? It may be that other Cabinet Ministers will now join them. It is even possible that the Prime Minister will give way. But if they aren’t prepared to walk away, they will probably get an outcome they won’t like. Where else have we heard that recently?
He says that “ultimately I hope that across Parliament we recognise that a deal is better than no deal.”
So he’s left presumably unwilling to sell May’s deal on any other basis that it’s bad…but that the alternative is worse.
Friends of Michael Gove made the case to ConservativeHome yesterday evening for him sticking, not twisting. This seems to be the sum of the advice he’s received from them, and he’s gone with it. This morning we learn that he will not resign. So the course of events during the last few days has been, first, that he reluctantly supported May’s deal in Cabinet; second, that when offered the Brexit Secretary post, he said that he would only take it were she to seek now to renegotiate it; third, that this request was refused and now fourth, that he isn’t resigning, but will stay at DEFRA.
The sum of all this is that it is known more widely than before that he doesn’t really back the deal. Furthermore, having now stuck rather than twisted, he will find it very hard to twist in the near future – however bad things get. He will be very well aware of the risk, in the long-lingering aftermath of his decision to walk away from Boris Johnson’s leadership campaign, of feeding more ammunition to the Tracey Ullmann Breaks The News caricature of him as unreliable (an impression now deepened in Downing Street). So he is left presumably unwilling to sell May’s deal on any other basis that it’s bad…but that the alternative is worse.
If this sounds unappetising – which it is – then so, in the great scheme of things, is the alternative. The anxiety that will consume senior members of the Cabinet – such as Gove, Sajid Javid and Liam Fox – is that their resignations could potentially bring down the Government, and open the door to Jeremy Corbyn. The Fixed Terms Parliament Act is an obstacle to that outcome but, as we saw last summer, it is not an insuperable barrier to an election. And as a Minister in the very front line of No Deal planning Gove will know how formidable are the challenges that it presents, and feel a sense of duty to help see it through. Whoever said that politics is easy?
Plus: But her deal’s so bad I’d rather Remain. Robbins is the real Rasputin, not Timothy. Would I really vote Tory tomorrow? And: Carry on Cocks and Dicks.
Iain Dale is an LBC presenter, a commentator with CNN and the author/editor of over 30 books.
I’m not angry: I’m just overwhelmed by a feeling of sadness that it’s come to this. It didn’t have to be this way.
I’m convinced that if Nick Timothy was still Theresa May’s chief adviser, things would have been very different. Instead, Olly Robbins replaced him in the Prime ministerial affections game, and we know the result.
Oops, how every dare I criticise a civil servant! The very thought. Well, I’m sorry: this Rasputin-like figure has more of a hold over the Prime Minister than Alan Walters had over Mrs Thatcher, or Peter Mandelson over Tony Blair.
She’s believed his every utterance or piece of advice over Brexit strategy even though, time and time again, he’s proved to have been disastrously wrong. On each occasion, it has resulted in yet another humiliating capitulation. When the rue history of this period is written, Robbins will not come out of it well.
– – – – – – – – –
On Wednesday, I wrote on my blog explaining why I thought the Brexit deal hatched between Theresa May and the EU was just about the worst result possible.
Indeed, so bad is it that if I had to choose between remaining in the EU and voting for this abortion of a deal, I would vote to Remain. I don’t resile from my Brexit vote, or the firm belief that we are better off out – but the trouble is, we won’t be out if this deal gets through.
For the avoidance of doubt, let me put on the record once again that no deal is preferable to a bad deal, and that this is the very worst deal. No deal is not an ideal option either, but at least we’d be master of our own destinies.
Yes, I accept that there would be some short-term issues to get over – but get over them we undoubtedly would. Instead May thinks that we should accept European rules with no say in their drafting. Any fool can see the dangers in that, and it is the direct opposite of ‘taking back control’.
So when the deal comes to the Commons, I hope it is decisively rejected. And I say that in the full knowledge that the Prime Minister would undoubtedly have to resign immediately. There’s no way she could survive it.
Having said that, she does have a remarkable ability to endure the impossible. But this time I think she’s bitten off too much. It takes a special talent to unite Andrew Adonis and Jacob Rees-Mogg, but by God she’s achieved it. It will be something she will live to regret, I suspect.
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I’m completing this diary early on Thursday afternoon. So far, there have been six resignations but by the time you read this I suspect there will have been more.
If Penny Mordaunt, Andrea Leadsom, Liam Fox and Michael Gove aren’t seriously considering their positions, I am not quite sure what kind of backbone they think they have.
Dominic Raab has now got first mover advantage, and has instantly transformed himself into a frontline leadership candidate.
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I have to say that May put in a superb parliamentary performance yesterday. Having to stand up on your hind legs when you’ve just had two cabinet ministers resign can’t have been easy. And to take questions for two and a half hours is something that few other leaders across the world would ever have to do. Credit to her for coming through it with aplomb.
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This week, I feel a bit of a fraud writing for ConservativeHome. For the first time in a very long time, I do wonder if I could support the Conservative Party in a general election were it held tomorrow. If it were a snap election held on the basis of endorsing Theresa May’s Brexit deal, I don’t think that I could.
But here’s the dilemma. Who else could I vote for? Certainly not Labour, definitely not the Liberal Democrats, absolutely not UKIP, whose leadership I abhor with every fibre of my being.
The Greens? Another lot of pro-European zealots. But I don’t really believe in spoiling my ballot paper, either. And this is why I rarely believe people who say after some Conservative disaster or another, “I’ll never vote Tory again”. Time heals and most people go back to their normal political home.
May had better hope there really are four years between now and the next election. Many people will have forgiven the party for this Horlicks of a Brexit deal by then…but it’s entirely possible that this open wound won’t have healed by then, either.
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Last week I told the tale of Cox, Dicks and Willy. However, according to a senior cabinet minister who texted me having read it, I missed out the best story.
Terry Dicks, John McDonnell’s predecessor as MP for Hayes & Harlington, used to tell a story about a public meeting in the 1979 election when he was standing against Michael Cocks, the Labour Chief Whip in Bristol.
According to Terry, the well-spoken woman in the chair concluded the meeting with the words: “Well ladies, there you have it. Your choice is between Cocks and Dicks”. For some of us, it was ever thus…