ABHI Brexit Update: The Rise of the Loyalist
I think the Knighthood might just be back on the cards you know. Services to Brexit. The PM quite clearly read the blog last week and acted on my advice to her to personally take control of negotiations with Brussels. I am aware that she announced a new Secretary of State, but it was an appointment very much after a fashion.
Steve Barclay and I grew up a few miles along the Fylde Coast from each other in the 1970s and 80s, but no, I am not about to tell you we were childhood friends. He is from Lytham, which, and I will forgive you for not knowing this, is all old money, wax jackets and Labradors. I am from Blackpool, which, and this you will know, is not. We were both handed a decent start in life, with places at two of the area’s public schools, and, subsequently, became the first members of our respective families to enter higher education. From that point I think it is probably fair to say that Steve made a better fist of it. He went up to Cambridge University, into banking and is now a Cabinet Minister. I went to PE College, worked in gyms, sold pharmaceuticals and am now writing this largely inconsequential rubbish. Our old schools are now merged, and, as if to prove the point, it was mine that, last year, they decided to demolish.
Faced with such bleak “Alfie” like realisation, I seek solace in the old adage that less is very often more. I am afforded a degree of freedom in thought, word and deed which is denied by Cabinet collective responsibility. People also, by and large, say nice things about what I try to do for them. Within hours of getting the job he was being ridiculed on “The Last Leg” for nothing more than being Steve Barclay. It is not actually that difficult to make the argument that, in accepting the job he has, Barclay is little more than a stooge. Whilst Theresa, Ollie and the rest of the No10 in crowd head off to do exciting things together in the Grand Place, Steve has to stay behind and take care of “domestic preparedness.” I think that is to do with all the contingency plans that everyone has been making like crazy these last few weeks, and leads me to make two observations. 1 – Much of the work he is in charge of has already been done, and 2- He is the overseer of plans just about everybody hopes will never be executed. I think he has been given a pretty duff brief.
He is, I understand, a decent man, even if, in his guise as Health Minister in charge of procurement, he declined, more than once, to meet us. Nonetheless I genuinely wish him every success, and not just because shared roots are more deeply binding than one usually contemplates. It could be, of course, he goes on to make a far more significant contribution than duller minds, my own included, can imagine at this juncture.
Doubtless one of the appeals for the PM in her choice, was Barclay’s reputation as an ultra-loyalist. Loyalty is not an attribute in great abundance in politicians, even in the best of times. In this febrile environment, with all the jostling and jockeying, she will be relieved to have someone else in the Cabinet on whom she can depend for support. Not that it has been too much of a problem for her since she came out swinging last Thursday. It has been amusing to watch the volte-face performed by our super fickle media hacks this week. 7 days ago, Jacob Rees-Mogg was being lined up as a the next PM, today he, and co-conspirator Steve Baker, are painted as rather ridiculous figures, and we should be grateful that they are not organising our Christmas party in St Austell’s brewery this year.
The pizza eating gang of 5 in the Cabinet have also put the thumb screws away for now, their efforts to persuade the PM to renegotiate the terms of the withdrawal agreement having received short shrift. Europe too seems to have been steadfast that the agreement is as is and not for changing. Yesterday also saw an expanded OPD, or in fact an OPD now without the O (look at last week’s) surface and, as I write, Sunday’s EU Leaders’ summit looks to be pretty uncontroversial. That is unless the French and Spanish decide to throw in the proverbial, they are worried about fishing rights and Gibraltar respectively. There is also some more general unrest about how level the playing field actually is as described in the Declaration.
Once again making the assumption that everything is, indeed, agreed on Sunday, it is still not quite time to get the magnifying glasses and slide rules out and start actually reading some of this stuff. It could yet be chip paper. The difficult bit starts next week. In fact the PM started about it last week. She is running a campaign to sell the deal to MPs, any MPs, and win the hearts and minds of us all. Businesses are being encouraged to support the deal and welcome the certainty it brings (HMG’s word not mine). Mrs. May is working incredibly hard, fitting in LBC and “This Morning” amongst meetings with EU leaders and MPs. Expect a lot more of it between now and whenever in December she thinks she can win the votes to ratify the Agreement and the Declaration.
Her task remains daunting. Labour and opposition parties have said they will vote against, as will the DUP, who will then probably need to write an IOU for £1 Billion for breaching their confidence and supply agreement. Tory Brexiteers are also unhappy that the deal does not actually deliver Brexit, whilst Scottish Conservatives have their own worries about fishing. I shared a beer with some backbench Tory MPs in Strangers this week, and they were also in rebellious mood.
There is also the issue that the Government this week chose again not to contest amendments to the Finance Bill, which have duly forced impact analyses to compare deal versus status quo. The results are likely to a boon to those who are pursuing the second referendum / no Brexit option.
Elsewhere you will have seen the note from our Chair yesterday, and we battle to reduce the number of requests you are receiving from individual organisations. The issue was raised at Wednesday’s Life Sciences Council, is being discussed with the Secretary of State’s advisors as you read this, will be picked up at an emergency roundtable on supply with Lord O’Shaughnessy next week and is being advanced by our sponsors in the Office for Life Sciences and DHSC. We remain interested to hear about interactions you have had, and particularly keen to see written requests.