In Monday’s debate on the Australia/New Zealand Trade Deal debate, George Eustice, sometime Secretary of State for the Environment, made some very unusual observations from the backbenches:
The first step is to recognise that the Australia trade deal is not actually a very good deal for the UK… the truth of the matter is that the UK gave away far too much for far too little in return.
And the responsibility for this, he concluded (see below) lay with one of the most senior officials – and now the most senior official – in the Department of International Trade.
Never has Guido heard of a more determined, more personal assault on a civil servant from the floor of the Commons…
The target of the attack was one Crawford Falconer, the new Interim Permanent Secretary at the Dept of International Trade. Last month, Falconer replaced his boss James Bowler who has moved to be Perm Sec at the Treasury.
As Second Perm Sec of the DIT, Falconer was on a walloping £260,000 to £264,000 when he joined in 2017. It was the highest salary in Whitehall at the time, £60,000 more than Jeremy Heywood, the head of the civil service.
It may have been a case of panic buying. Britain was exiting the EU and the Government felt it hadn’t the expertise to negotiate the necessary trade deals. So, was Crawford Falconer value for money, as Britain’s chief Brexit negotiator?
Civil Service World reported:
In August, Labour Party cabinet minister-turned National Infrastructure Commission chairman Lord Andrew Adonis claimed that Falconer had not been DIT’s first choice for the role, but that a pay dispute with Canadian negotiation expert Jonathan Fried had led to him turning down the post. The department insisted Adonis was “incorrect”.
There were other ructions – it was said he couldn’t get access to Prime Minister Theresa May, nor could he get the seat he wanted at the Brexit negotiating table.
in Monday’s debate we got a glimpse behind the polished oak doors of the civil service. It was an attack on Falconer unique in modern times.
Eustice said he had always enjoyed working with civil servants, that he had a great relationship with them, except for this one particular individual…
Crawford Falconer, currently the interim permanent secretary, is not fit for that position, in my experience. His approach was always to internalise Australian demands, often when they were against UK interests, and his advice was invariably to retreat and make fresh concessions.
All the while, he resented people who had a greater understanding of technical issues than he did.
It was perhaps something of a surprise when he arrived from New Zealand to find that there were probably several hundred civil servants in the UK civil service who understood trade better than he did, and he has not been good, over the years, at listening to them. He has now done that job for several years, and it would be a good opportunity for him to move on and for us to get a different type of negotiator in place—somebody who understands British interests better than he has been able to.
This sort of thing is only said – and rarely said – behind closed doors. It is language the civil service simply does not recognise. It has to be wondered what effect it might have coming from the floor of the House, from a sometime Secretary of State.
How permanent will the permanent secretary be?
We shall have to wait and see…