Ever popular former Prime Minister Tony Blair has given yet another speech to remind people of how he right he is always right about everything. Incredibly he also sent congratulations to May’s Brexit guru Olly Robbins for supposedly hoodwinking the Cabinet at Chequers:
“I take my hat off to Olly Robbins, Olly is a very skilled guy, the elaborate camouflage of all the different points is a tribute to the skill of the British civil service, I say that sincerely.”
Sincere or not, Blair’s comments will do nothing to dispel many Brexiteers’ suspicions that the Civil Service has been working to stitch-up the entire Brexit process behind the scenes. The familiar tactic of details being withheld from Cabinet Ministers until the last minute has led to Ministers being bounced bit by bit into a soft Brexit by stealth. Blair’s claim that EU officials privately say that Britain has “basically caved in” will not leave anyone too impressed either. Cock-up or conspiracy…
Former MI6 boss Sir Richard Dearlove has hit back at Mark Sedwill’s whiny letter in the Times yesterday asking people to lay off poor old Olly Robbins because he’s just doing his “duty to implement the decisions of the governments they elect.” Like preparing his own “Olly plan” for Brexit without the Cabinet’s knowledge for 9 months?
Dearlove says “It is not critics of the once great British civil service but members of that service in No 10 who need to cease and desist”. He calls for Robbins and his defence adviser Alastair Brockbank to answer “serious questions of improper conduct” over the so-called ‘Kit Kat tapes’ where Brockbank was covertly recorded pledging to continue propping up EU defence programmes with UK taxpayers’ cash. Since the referendum there has been a complete reversal in the UK’s longstanding policy of opposing EU defence integration with no public debate…
The fundamental truth is that individual civil servants have agendas, biases and prejudices – just like anybody else. Different government departments can even have competing agendas. Reporting on this is a public service. Sedwill’s special pleading that civil servants should be immune from criticism and scrutiny is both arrogant and chilling for democratic accountability. The buck stops with elected politicians but that does not mean that high-powered civil servants should be given a free pass from the press to run their fiefdoms with impunity…
The PM’s Brexit Sherpa Olly “Red” Robbins has been spotted having an early evening large glass of red wine in a Brussels bar whilst almost certainly perusing the latest #DespiteBrexit story. The Brexit negotiations currently in their most critical phase must be going better than expected?
The reason May looked so shook yesterday at the Salzburg press conference is simply that she did not expect the rejection to come now or for them to be blunt to the point of humiliatingly rude. Macron positively rejoicing at the prospect of punishing Britain and Tusk claiming Chequers is dead, coupled with him mocking her crassly on Instagram do not signal diplomatic success for Olly Robbins.
The line this morning from Downing Street is, to coin a phrase, “nothing has changed”. This rejection is, they say, merely positioning in the final stages of a negotiation. Nobody else seems to agree. The EU is playing brutally hard ball and Downing Street has been hitherto firmly pragmatic. She needs to stick to what she told Nick Robinson at Chequers in the interview clip above. It is still possible that the EU will blink, Downing Street says they now have to. This is also the end of the line for can kicking by Theresa May, if she compromises beyond Chequers she will see more Cabinet resignations and the resignation of one of her top advisers. She can’t move politically on;
ending free movement
membership of the single market or the customs union
ending the jurisdiction of the ECJ
ending vast payments to the EU or paying for access to the single market
integrity of Britain and Northern Ireland
Macron’s approval rating is on the floor, bashing les Anglais is a vote winner, Ireland’s Leo Varadkar has no intention of being seen to be soft on the British.It is possible that EU leaders will blink, however not probable unless the they really believe the UK will actually go ahead with no deal, no much needed £39 billion contribution to the EU budget. Just a cheery au revoir and auf wiedersehen…
As Downing Street’s Remainer Brexit supremo Olly Robbins further blurs the Prime Minister’s red lines, Guido cannot help but ask where are the Cabinet Brexiters?
Single market: According to the front page of today’s Times, Robbins is now saying there is no chance of the UK striking a bespoke deal with Brussels and that Downing Street is now favouring a Norway-style Brexit inside the single market. This would be a clear betrayal of the result and mean a sellout on free movement. At the very least Number 10 is considering asking to stay in the single market for goods. May told Brexiters we would be completely outside the single market.
Customs union: Robbins’ hybrid plan is a customs union in all but name. Even if Number 10 choose MaxFac, staying in single market for goods ruins our ability to strike free trade deals with other countries. We would not have an independent trade policy. May told us we would be outside the customs union, not staying in it in all but name.
Laws: It is now clear we will have to accept significant ECJ rulings after we leave, and that the ECJ will still effectively have some jurisdiction in the UK. If we stay in the single market for goods and pursue regulatory alignment, we will be a rule taker. This is arguably a worse situation than being a member of the EU, where at least you get a say. May told us we would be taking back control of laws.
Transition: There is now significant talk the transition period could be extended. Brexiters only accepted the transition agreement after May promised it would be strictly time-limited to two years.
Among Cabinet Brexiters, Boris has at least put up a fight, repeatedly condemning the direction of the government and calling the hybrid model “crazy”. But what about the rest?
DD’s threat to resign was embarrassing, he has been outmanoeuvred and then publicly mocked by Robbins at every turn. He is in danger of going down as the Brexit Secretary that effectively kept us in single market and customs union. How can he live with that? How can Steve Baker and Suella Braverman? We hear about their threats to resign, we hear about Baker packing his things up and threatening to walk out. When will Dexeu actually do something to stand up to Robbins?
Gove has been strongly critical of Robbins’ hybrid model, and at least he did tear up the NCP document in front of civil servants. But it has not gone unnoticed that he has been painfully loyal to the government and has moderated his position on pretty much everything Brexit-related over the last year. After the referendum he was insisting the transition must last months not years – he never mentions that when he’s speaking and schmoozing at every Tory drinks party. The consensus is his motive for staying quiet is the leadership, softening his stance to get Remainers onside…
Fox, whose department is being made a mockery of by Number 10, has said and done nothing. It appears all he cares about is being in government. He seems to spend most of his time sending press releases about putting up England flags rather than worrying that his job has become pointless. Fox and Leadsom are even talking about extending the transition period, falling into the Remainer trap to keep us in forever.
UPDATE: A source close to Fox says: “Liam makes his passionate eurosceptic arguments around the cabinet table rather than in public because he believes that’s the way these things should be done”
Where is Grayling? Where is Mordaunt? Have they ever said anything about how they think Brexit is going? Are Cabinet Brexiters actually going to do anything this week, or roll over and let Olly Robbins push us into the softest of non-Brexits?
Rumours are doing the rounds in Whitehall that Theresa May’s Brexit adviser Olly Robbins is weighing up his options for a potential move to the private sector after October. The water cooler chat in several departments is that Robbins could bail out after the key EU summit and is considering a big pay day outside of government. He will not be short of offers on the continent…
After a fun morning of back and forth, here is the government’s ‘time-limited’ backstop proposal:
The UK is clear that the temporary customs arrangement, should it be needed, should be time limited, and that it will be only in place until the future customs arrangement can be introduced. The UK is clear that the future customs arrangement needs to deliver on the commitments made in relation to Northern Ireland. The UK expects the future arrangement to be in place by the end of December 2021 at the latest. There are a range of options for how a time limit could be delivered, which the UK will propose and discuss with the EU.
“Expects” is not a legal time limit. This is a fudge of a fudge of a fudge that implies the government won’t keep us in a customs union after December 2021, but does not legally rule it out. Yet again this government refuses to make a decision, refuses to show leadership and refuses to tell the EU what we want from Brexit. DD can try to claim victory and it is true this fudge is a humiliation for May and Robbins. It is remarkable Robbins is keeping his job after attempting to ram through the original plan behind Brexiters’ backs. But this is not a win for DD or Brexiters. Number 10 clearly wants to put us on a course for close alignment to the EU, which quite possibly will end up with us inside a customs union, and had to be forced under threat of resignation even to come up with this dreary fudge. This is all very depressing. It has never been truer that, as May once said, “you can only deliver Brexit if you believe in Brexit…”
Tory MPs in the ERG have told Theresa May to sack her Remainer Brexit adviser Olly Robbins. Representations have been made to the chief whip that Robbins’ Irish backstop is unacceptable and has put Number 10 on a course towards selling out on Brexit, and his position is no longer tenable. May has to choose whether she wants to persist with Robbins’ sellout plan that gives up on the opportunities of Brexit, or back down and agree with David Davis. It is difficult to see how both Robbins and DD can stay in the government if things carry on like this.
On the DD resignation rumours front, yesterday afternoon his allies were insistent that he would be staying. The mood worsened by the evening, with one friend of Davis putting the chances of him quitting at 50-50. This morning another ally of DD says he is considering his position. You have to wonder what Davis has to lose from quitting. If he backs down he will go down as the Brexit Secretary who didn’t make good on his threats and allowed Robbins’ Remainer Brexit. If Davis does resign, one ally says, May is “toast“. It’s DD-Day…
Worrying developments in the Cabinet row over Olly Robbins’ new sellout fudge potentially keeping us in the customs union forever. Remainers in the government are gloating that David Davis has been “outsmarted” by Robbins and briefing that he doesn’t have the balls to kill it.
All eyes on DD. One weary gvt source cautions against expecting any reaction: “It looks like DD might be being outsmarted by Olly Robbins but will it be all bark and no bite again” Others say he’s digging in tho
It wd be very Theresa May to resolve this by delaying the decision
Disturbing reports from Sam Coates that May’s Brexit adviser Olly Robbins is attempting to fudge the time-limit on Number 10’s Northern Ireland backstop. Brexiters had previously been assured that the backstop – which pledges to keep the UK in the customs union beyond 2021 if no other arrangement is agreed – would be strictly time-limited. It is now being reported that Robbins is attempting to fudge the time-limit. If this happens it is going to be a Hotel California Brexit – we are never going to leave. This is going to kick off – it should be completely unacceptable to Brexiters…
May’s chief civil service Brexit adviser Olly Robbins has joined Twitter with a passive aggressive dig at the Brussels official who briefed the press yesterday that the UK was “chasing fantasy”. The implication of Robbins’ tweet very much that Brussels has not been calm and professional. Robbins’ Twitter mentions when Leave.EU and co find his account will be quite something…
If any further proof were needed that the civil service is working against Brexit, this morning’s revelation in The Sun that Olly Robbins held back evidence in favour of the Max Fac model just about sums it up. May’s Europhile Brexit adviser stands accused of deliberately not including evidence that a technological solution can be found to solve the Irish border question in his presentation to the Brexit sub-committee. Meanwhile, George Trefgarne reports that Number 10 and the Treasury nixed plans to trial Max Fac next year:
2. My understanding is HMRC were ready to trial the Max Fac systems in August, but this has been pulled by No10 and the Treasury
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…
After the Chequers summit the story was one of unity and consensus, with the agreement reached by the Brexit sub-committee last week holding until today’s Cabinet meeting. Yet during today’s talks senior Brexiters say there was some “drift” away from the language of the Chequers agreement, with a few “tweaks” that appear to be trying to reset the government’s approach towards convergence with the EU. The James Forsyth App reports that an idea was proposed to make a “binding agreement” to align with EU rules and regulations in certain sectors. David Davis, for the second time in a week, was “the hero of the hour” in fighting back against the suggestion. Where did this new alignment idea come from? Those in the room detect the hand of Jeremy Heywood and Olly Robbins, May’s troublesome civil servants, trying to move the Cabinet away from the agreed position. A Cabinet source says: “It seems to be incessant tinkering and manipulation by the Cabinet Secretary and his minions when everything should be focussed on what the Cabinet agreed at Chequers”. We will see when May speaks tomorrow whether Heywood and Robbins were successful…
Tory Brexiteers fear Theresa May is being bounced by her top civil servants Jeremy Heywood and Olly Robbins into a non-Brexit which prevents us from diverging from the EU after we leave. Leavers have been pragmatic, calm and willing to compromise throughout the Brexit process so far. This is really the first time things are in danger of seriously kicking off. This line in the draft text apparently agreed by Number 10 has caused genuine fears among all Brexiteers:
“In the absence of agreed solutions, the UK will maintain full alignment with the internal market, customs union…”
This is wholly unacceptable, it is almost unbelievable Number 10 would sign it off. Guido bumped into Lord Trimble last night and showed him this line, he stared at it for some time as if having difficulty believing it could be real before commenting: “This is surely not something the British government could sign up to”.
Brexiteers believe Heywood and Robbins are taking advantage of a weak Downing Street to force through a Brexit which keeps us too closely aligned to Brussels. Guido reported in September that Heywood and Robbins were seeking a softer EEA minus model, there are now genuine fears of a stitch up and Number 10 choosing a route closer to that than the real Brexit preferred by Boris, Gove and Fox, and demanded by the referendum result. A Whitehall source says May is “way too reliant” on Robbins. It is baffling that they appear to have conceded alignment on agriculture between the EU and the whole of the UK – could the Environment Secretary really live with that? There are also serious concerns that May could drop the ECJ red line from her Lancaster House speech. Leavers are seeing the situation as salami slices being given away until eventually there is no salami left.
There is also disbelief that May did not consult Cabinet about what they were about to concede. A Whitehall source tells the Sun: “Cabinet is in the dark about what the PM is doing now, which is a very strange state of affairs to be in”. A Cabinet source tells the Telegraph: “The Prime Minister is playing a risky game”. Brexiteers are asking who in is in charge: is it Heywood and Robbins bouncing a weak May into a softer Brexit, or is it May trying to bounce the Brexiteers? It is more likely to be the former. May knows she owes her position to keeping Leavers onside – if she sells out they won’t stand for it.
Theresa May’s Brexit supremo Olly Robbins is a former Soviet sympathiser who opposed capitalism, praised Soviet leaders and lamented the demise of Communist Russia, Guido can reveal. As as a student at Hertford College, Oxford in the nineties, “Red Robbins” wrote an article in praise of Soviet Russia for the Oxford Reform Club magazine. In a rewriting of history that would have made Seumas Milne blush, the PM’s new star Number 10 hire wrote:
“The Russian state has endured more than any other major nation in the twentieth century, and has achieved more too… I would never disagree that some of the deeds done in the name of communism were evil, but it is as well to look at the era’s aims and achievements. First among these were the aims of free and fair education, housing and healthcare. These were also the main planks of the post-war consensus here in Britain, and could hardly be described as evil. What is more, they were achieved. More Russians can read than Britons, there are almost no homeless people in Moscow, unlike London… Another achievement was the making of a state, a world power indeed, and one that its people could be proud of. The Soviet leaders changed Russia from a backward peasant autocracy, despised by the West, into a technological giant at whom the world cowered in fear for half a century.”
Red Robbins then lamented the fall of the Soviet Union as meaning there is no longer an alternative to the real baddie: capitalism.
“The demise of the Soviet experiment means that for those growing up in the world today, especially western Europe, there appears to be no alternative to the mad excesses of modern capitalism. To the thinking man and woman, Soviet Russia may not have been ideal, but it was food for thought in the “greed is good” climate of the 1980’s.”
The article concludes that it is unfair to say communism failed because the ravages of Russia’s Tsarist past meant “the experiment was hardly conducted in fair conditions”. A friend of Robbins confirmed he wrote the article but declined to comment on his past views.
So the top civil servant in charge of Brexit is only a former Soviet fanboy who defended Stalin and implied communism was preferable to capitalism. We knew Olly was a Remainer, but we didn’t think he’d be such a keen supporter of the crowning principles behind Juncker’s democracy-hating EU super-state speech last week. On the plus side, Red Robbins will get on famously with Seumas if Corbyn makes it to Number 10…
“This is, at its heart, a matter of public trust,” he told the PM, concluding: “I cannot reconcile the terms of the proposed deal with the promises we made to the country in our manifesto at the last election… I believe that the regulatory regime proposed for Northern Ireland presents a very real threat to the integrity of the United Kingdom. I cannot support an indefinite backstop arrangement, where the EU holds a veto over our ability to exit…”