Tory MPs want Theresa May to add Brexit-supporting trade experts to her Number 10 team after concerns were raised that the current crop of policy aides are out of their depth and not signed up to the PM’s plan for leaving the customs union. The revelation that May’s senior aides “will not be crying into our beer” should the UK be forced to remain in a customs union has enraged Brexiters. As Guido reported yesterday, knives are out for the Number 10 Europe Unit, Denzil Davidson and Ed de Minckwitz, who are accused of attempting to “roll the pitch” ahead of caving on the customs union.
Davidson helped negotiate David Cameron’s failed pre-referendum deal with the EU, which hardly inspires confidence. There is consternation that de Minckwitz, who was one of Stronger In’s top advisers during the referendum and played the role of Boris in BSE’s debate prep, inexplicably holds the trade brief. When you add the Remainer-filled Europe Unit to May’s Remainer chief of staff Gavin Barwell – who blames Brexit for him losing his seat – and her Remainer chief EU adviser Olly Robbins – who came up with the disastrous ‘customs partnership’ fudge – it is clear that none of the PM’s top Brexit aides are true believers.
Some Leavers are lobbying for the role of DIT’s Crawford Falconer, someone who actually has trade expertise, to be beefed up. Others want Number 10 to listen more to the likes of the IEA’s Shanker Singham and the group Economists For Free Trade. There have been serious concerns for a while now that the calibre of May’s Brexit advisers is so low that “Heywood and Robbins run rings around them”. One of the key problems with Number 10’s approach to Brexit is that none of her Brexit aides believe in the cause. Pro-Brexit advisers, Nick Timothy even, would never have allowed their position on the customs union to become so vague. As Theresa May herself said, “You can only deliver Brexit if you believe in Brexit…”
Tory MPs and Cabinet ministers are telling Theresa May to ditch her ‘customs partnership’ fudge, with government sources claiming even Jeremy Heywood thinks it is a “turkey“. David Davis has been lobbying against Number 10’s so-called hybrid model, in which the UK would collect import tariffs on behalf of Brussels, continue to follow the Common Commercial Policy, stay in the single market for goods and effectively throw away our ability to strike new trade deals. There is a split among May’s top civil servants – this model is the brainchild of Olly Robbins yet Heywood reportedly thinks it is over-complicated and unworkable. It certainly isn’t a ‘clean Brexit’. “May and Robbins are the only ones still backing it,” says one well-placed source. The fudge has also convinced the EU that we are not set on leaving the customs union, encouraging Brussels to play hardball and offer a binary choice between a customs union and no deal. May will be told to drop the customs partnership at Wednesday’s meeting of the Brexit sub-committee.
Insiders say there are attempts by May’s Downing Street Europe unit, which consists of her special adviser on Europe Denzil Davidson and her Europe and Trade adviser Ed de Minckwitz, to “roll the pitch” ahead of caving on the customs union. Once again this comes down to May putting Remainers in charge of her Brexit policy. She needs to get a grip on this quick, it is in danger of kicking off…