Sir Cover-Up, Sir Craig and the Curious Case of His Memoirs

The rules for a former Special Adviser wanting to write a book on their time in government are very clear: Sir Jeremy Heywood must give his personal approval. As the Code of Conduct for SpAds states: “The permission of the Cabinet Secretary must be sought before publishing, or entering into a contractual commitment to publish such memoirs”. Sir Craig Oliver’s memoirs, then, must have secured Heywood’s approval before the book deal was signed. Yet a year-long Freedom of Information campaign raises questions as to whether the rules were followed…

Sir Craig’s book is full of privileged information. It discusses the contents of a phone call between David Cameron and Barack Obama (pages 62-63). It discusses the contents of various Cabinet meetings (pages 95-96, pages 376-379). It discusses the contents of a meeting between Obama and the Cabinet (pages 196-197). Now, it has consistently been government policy, championed by Heywood, not to release details of conversations between the PM and US Presidents, or to release details of Cabinet discussions. A co-conspirator tested this by sending a very specific FoI request seeking the exact same information published in Sir Craig’s book. The Cabinet Office refused to disclose it on grounds of “prejudicing relations between the UK and any other State” and protecting Cabinet privacy.

So the Cabinet Office is on record that releasing this specific information could prejudice relations with the US. Why, then, was Sir Craig allowed to publish it?

Guido’s co-conspirator has spent the last year trying to find out. On 3 November 2016, in response to another FoI request, the Cabinet Office said Sir Craig “followed the process for publishing personal memoirs as set out in the Code of Conduct for Special Advisers”. In other words, nothing to see here.

Yet eight months later, in response to an internal review of the FoI response, on 27 July 2017 the Cabinet Office was forced to admit it “does not hold any recorded information to show there was a discussion prior to Mr Oliver signing a contract with a publisher”.

Hang on a minute. If there is no record in the Cabinet Office of any discussion prior to Sir Craig signing his book deal, how can he have possibly “followed the process” which requires “the permission of the Cabinet Secretary” before “entering into a contractual commitment”Uh oh…

The Cabinet Office say Sir Craig did submit his manuscript before publication, meaning Heywood could have prevented the release of restricted information but chose not to do so. This all raises several questions. First, Sir Craig could be in big trouble if the rules on securing permission before signing a book deal were not followed, as the Cabinet Office appeared to admit. Indeed the government has seized the profits of books which breached the rules before – an outcome which definitely wouldn’t be hilarious. Secondly, if Heywood did sign the book off prior to publication, why did he sanction the release of privileged information that the Cabinet Office says “prejudices relations” between the UK and US? It is hard to see how Sir Craig and Sir Cover-Up can both have kept to the rules. This could unleash some demons…

Former Brexit Minister: Government Must Publish No Deal Plans

The queues to see Leave Means Leave’s Jacob Rees-Mogg event at the Radisson were so long the police had to be called to keep order. In the absence of any real news the Mogg is the box office figure at conference so far. A who’s who of Brexiters turned up to hear him this evening including David Davis, his SpAd Stewart Jackson and Brexit minister Steve Baker. The Mogg warned that “organisations within the state” are working against Brexit, naming the Home Office as a potential threat to Brexit and warning: “I am very suspicious of Her Majesty’s Treasury”. He told the room it was in civil servants’ interests to delay Brexit and laid into the BBC, whose coverage since the referendum he labelled “absolutely appalling”. In the heat a lady fainted, the Mogg leapt to her side like an ambitious MP in a room full of Tory members…

Aside from the Moggmania, the most interesting comments came from former Brexit minister David Jones. With his old boss looking on, Jones insisted DExEU is making preparations for a no deal scenario, but called on the government to publish the plans. He added that unless the EU agrees to talk about the future trade relationship “we must make it absolutely clear we will terminate negotiations”. Increasing numbers of Tory MPs are resigned to the negotiations failing – it is worrying the government has done so little to talk publicly about its plans for no deal…

Cabinet Minister: We Will End Up Very Close to EEA

One line in James Forsyth’s column that explains why Brexiters are so concerned and why the Cabinet is split. He quotes a Cabinet minister as being upbeat on the likelihood of an EEA light option where the UK is forced to copy EU regulations and not diverge in future without the consent of Brussels:

“That’s where we’ll end up. Not in (the EEA) but very close.”

Such an outcome is unacceptable, it does not allow Britain to go its own way, it keeps us attached at the hip to the EU, it is not Brexit. Forsyth confirms Guido’s story on Monday that it is Hammond, Heywood, Rudd and Olly Robbins who are pushing for this outcome. Cabinet ministers saying we are going to end up very close to EEA membership are not delivering the will of the people, that they are so bullish about winning this argument rightly has Brexiters worried…

Hammond and Treasury “On Manoeuvres” Against Brexit

A timely intervention from Theresa May’s former chief of staff Nick Timothy, who fingers Philip Hammond for being “on manoeuvres” against Brexit. Timothy says May “deserves the support of her ministers, Leavers and Remainers alike” – the implication being that the likes of Hammond and Rudd are undermining the PM on Brexit. He accuses Hammond of playing “games” and says “the Treasury’s reluctance to even mention the positives of leaving the EU, such as the Brexit dividend, is why the government has not talked positively enough about the opportunities of Brexit. In that respect, the Foreign Secretary was right in his Daily Telegraph column last Saturday”. As Guido reported on Monday, Hammond and the Treasury have been pushing for a soft EEA-light Brexit, contrary to government policy…

For an idea of just how much the Treasury hates Brexit, here is former HMT permanent secretary Nick Macpherson responding to Timothy’s article:

The man who ran the Treasury until last year implying Brexit is an “overwhelming wickedness” and some terrible example of human nature that needs to be “curtailed“. This is the sort of pompous, anti-democratic civil service intransigence May is still having to deal with. Mandarins and Remainer Cabinet ministers are working against government policy and the referendum result…

Civil Service ‘Not Really Preparing’ For No Deal Scenario

A concerning report by the BBC’s Chris Cook says the government is not taking seriously the idea of a ‘no deal’ Brexit, and that preparations for such a scenario are superficial at best. Cook writes: “A lot of memos are being circulated, but not a lot beyond that. Britain does not seem to be taking the idea of No Deal very seriously”. This is a view echoed by senior Brexiters, who are worried that the civil service and Cabinet Remainers are so gloomy about a no deal Brexit that they are not even countenancing that outcome. Guido reported in March that senior Leavers were lobbying the government to prepare for no deal – at the time Number 10 officials put the probability of no deal at between 30% and 50%. Not much progress has been made since then…

Given the not exactly tiny possibility that talks with Brussels could break down, a failure to make serious preparations would be an abdication of responsibility similar to the lack of contingency planning for a Leave vote under the Cameron / Heywood administration. In any case, a no deal Brexit provides huge opportunities that should be being talked up not down. Pretending to be ready to walk away is not good enough, the government and civil service needs to make real plans for such an outcome…

Nadine Complains to Civil Service Chief About Statto’s Boris Blunder

Click to enlarge

Nads is right, Sir David Norgrove cocked up

RED ROBBINS: May’s Brexit Supremo is Soviet Sympathiser Who Opposed Capitalism

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…

Heywood Breaching Cabinet Manual By Bypassing Ministers

Interesting story in Rachel Sylvester’s column today suggesting Number 10 is acting unconstitutionally by bypassing the Cabinet on Brexit. At present Brexit issues are being debated by Cabinet sub-committees and decided by Theresa May’s team, not Cabinet as a whole. Sylvester says “there has been no substantive Cabinet discussion on our future relationship with the EU… That is not only astonishing but outrageous” and “constitutionally questionable”. Gus O’Donnell’s Cabinet manual makes clear “issues of a constitutional nature”, “the most significant domestic policy issues”, “the most significant European or international business” must be agreed by the whole Cabinet. That isn’t happening at present…

What is Cabinet Secretary Jeremy Heywood up to? He has the responsibility to tell the Prime Minister that she has to make these decisions collectively, not with a smaller coterie of ministers and civil servants. He must know the status quo is in breach of the Cabinet manual, as Sylvester says it is constitutionally questionable. Heywood has a reputation for shirking tough advice – it was for example an abdication of duty that he did not insist to Cameron he had to make preparations for Brexit. Of course it suits Heywood to bypass Cabinet and give the civil service and Number 10 greater control of Brexit. The problem is this freezes out senior members of the Cabinet who should be integral to decision-making. Which means you end up with a situation like the Boris article…

Hammond, Heywood, Robbins Pushing For Weak “EEA Light” Deal

The £350 million row is (once again) distracting everyone from the real story. James Forsyth has written a bang on the money blog about the “biggest Cabinet Brexit split” – between “several of the most senior members of the Cabinet” who want an “EEA minus/light” deal, and Boris and Gove who want a CETA/Canada plus model. An EEA minus/light deal means the UK shadows EU regulations and ECJ judgements, tying the UK’s hands and not delivering the Brexit for which Britons voted. A Canada plus deals means the UK shadows some standards but mostly we would be able to forge our own way in the world. This is what is kicking off right now.

Guido understands Boris went bonkers last week when he found out Theresa May was heading towards the EEA light option at her Florence speech. Senior Tory Brexiters say the EEA light model is being pushed by Philip Hammond and Remainer civil servants in the Treasury, the permanently frustrating Cabinet Secretary Jeremy Heywood and Olly Robbins, the DExEU permanent secretary who it was announced this morning is off to Number 10. Dom Cummings, who Tim Shipman revealed yesterday was still in close contact with Boris and Gove, alleges David Davis is sympathetic to the EEA light option. Friends of DD deny that is the case. Boris and Gove are strongly opposed and insist it is the worst of all worlds.

As Open Europe’s Henry Newman, former SpAd to Gove, explains:

“Government needs to debate and decide what sort of country UK ought to be after Brexit: that’s the prior question rather than transition. The Treasury are pushing for us to be in an “EEA minus” arrangement – just outside of the Single Market but bound into a regulatory ERM. EEA minus would mean all the costs of Brexit and few opportunities. We need to be further along the spectrum from Norway/Swiss to Canada.”

EEA minus/light is essentially the Swiss model. When Switzerland sought to end freedom of movement they were threatened with being cut out of single market access and eventually had to climb down and relinquish control of borders. Theresa May should not be promising loads of money on Friday in exchange for a weak Swiss-type deal which does not deliver the Brexit people voted for. Guido believes May wants to do Brexit right, she has certainly shown no sign of wavering so far. She should remember that Boris and Gove won the referendum, not Hammond and Heywood…

Which Minister Authorised Heywood to Attack Maude?

Cabinet Secretary Jeremy Heywood is very upset with Francis Maude for speaking the truth about the civil service. In a speech last night (which is well worth your time), Maude warned that Whitehall is “deeply flawed”, not up to scratch to make a success of Brexit, guilty of promoting sub-par employees, covering up failure and lying to ministers. Any Secretary of State who has ever tried to do anything approaching a radical reform will tell you the same. If a politician ever wants to do something which might improve the country, the civil service blob stands in their way.

Heywood has launched a personal attack on Maude in response: “It is a pity that Lord Maude has chosen to attack the organisation and its dedicated staff with a wholly inaccurate portrayal of what is widely regarded as one of the world’s most effective and efficient civil services”. This isn’t  a fair critique of the Maude speech – he went to great effort to stress he wasn’t attacking individuals. And the claim that it was an “inaccurate portrayal” is guff. It is very unusual for a civil servant to go on the record to the press attacking a politician like this. The civil service code clearly states mandarins must “ensure you have Ministerial authorisation for any contact with the media”. Which minister authorised Heywood’s attack on Maude? Or has he breached his own code?

Civil Servants Sabotaging Brexit

Former head of the civil service Bob Kerslake is known as “Comrade Bob” by fellow peers for his lefty interventions in the Lords. Last night he revealed his view, no doubt shared by former colleagues, that a no deal Brexit would be “an utter and complete disaster”. Last night’s major leak to the Guardian on immigration is suspected to have come from disgruntled anti-Brexit civil servants, who handed the story to the most pro-immigration newspaper. Ministers feel they are the victim of a sabotage attempt from mandarins who are supposed to be politically neutral. Anyone in any doubt as to the views of panjandrums should look at the Twitter feed of former Treasury permanent secretary and Project Fear architect Nick Macpherson, who spends his whole time these days moaning about Brexit. When pro-Remain pundits talk about Brexiters becoming the new establishment they have it wrong, the civil service establishment hates the referendum result and is working to undermine it…

HS2 Boss Resigns Following Contract Fiasco

HS2 has announced the departure of its Director-General following the £170 million cancelled contract debacle. David Prout, the civil servant who had overall responsibility for the entire project for the last four years, has resigned and will take up a position at Oxford University in September. A major blow…

Guido also understands the Permanent Secretary at the Department for Transport, Philip Rutnam, is leaving. He will join the Home Office. The man in charge of HS2 is out, and the most senior DfT mandarin is off too. Problems growing for HS2 ahead of what will be a fiery Transport questions for Chris Grayling this morning…

80% of State Bureaucrats Will be Replaced by Robots

Britain’s bloated public sector could save £4 billion-a-year over the next 15 years by replacing 250,000 human civil servants with more efficient robots, according to a study by the wonks at Reform. Chat bots and other web AI could all but wipe out administrative roles, while drones and robots will take over policing and medicine. This would streamline the sector to its essential human core: the 20% of strategy-setting top minds. Reform said the changes would mean:

“The NHS, for example, can focus on the highest risk patients, reducing unnecessary hospital admissions. UK police and other emergency services are already using data to predict areas of greatest risk from burglary and fire.”

Robots – in the form of AI driven software agents – also have the advantage of not going on strike and making fewer mistakes than humans in critical processes. Today’s study is the latest in a slew of similar reports: Oxford University predicted 850,000 jobs could go to robots. The data-driven, automated public sector would wipe out the government’s budget deficit…

Government Cake Tsar is Labour Sponge-Lover

The killjoy civil servant behind the Whitehall anti-cake edict can be revealed as a Labour-supporting dessert aficionado. Despite warning her colleagues to refrain from sugary treats, Liza Pawlowska has proudly posted social media snaps showing a large, half-eaten sponge cake topped with whipped cream, and another of a tray of sausage rolls. She also displays her support for Remain campaigners Labour in for Britain. While unashamedly flaunting her love of cake online, Pawlowska warned her colleagues “to be more mindful… of those who have difficulty resisting“. She really is trying to have her cake and eat it…

Civil Servants Asked Not to Take Cake to Office Because It’s a “Public Health Hazard”

Civil servants have been asked not to bring cake into work because it could be a “public health hazard” to “those who have difficulty resisting”. The Civil Service Twitter account this morning asked: “Could your office cake culture be a public health hazard?”, linking to a post on the official Civil Service blog by a member of the Treasury’s “Wellbeing Workstream”, asking colleagues to be “mindful” of the snacks they bring to work:

I do think we need to be more mindful of what is on offer in the office (not just during Ramadan), and of those who may suffer from or be susceptible to diabetes, of those who have difficulty resisting, or of simply not putting a spanner in the works of your colleague’s New Year’s resolution.”

The article goes on to say civil servants can bring cake in to the office “every once in a while”, but adds “perhaps the treats shouldn’t always be of the processed or sugary variety”. Ironic that this warning about bloated civil service fat cats perfectly highlights the problem of bloated civil service fat cats…

BEIS Civil Servants Forced to Embrace Brexit

leave

Yesterday Guido revealed how civil servants at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy had sent out a press release discussing what will happen “if the UK leaves the EU”. Well, the press release has now been updated to end the uncertainty and make clear there is no “if” about Brexit. Did Downing Street have another word with Sir Humphrey? 

Sir Humphrey Keeps Forgetting Brexit Means Brexit

screen-shot-2016-11-27-at-23-30-15

Shortly after Theresa May became Prime Minister, her team stressed to the overwhelmingly Remain-supporting civil service that Brexit must be at the centre of all decision-making, that there must be no equivocation: we are leaving the EU. Panjandrums were told they must include a commitment to Brexit in all of their “write rounds”, the regular Whitehall memos circulated to ministers, sub-committees, the PM and the Cabinet Secretary. Alas, Europhile mandarins have defied this order, repeatedly omitting the Brexit commitment. Forgetfulness or a vain act of dissent? Downing Street are taking no chances – whenever they receive one of these incomplete write rounds from civil service Remainers they add the words “We are leaving the European Union” and send it back, reminding the sore loser responsible of their duties. “You will remember next time, won’t you Humphrey?” “Yes, Prime Minister…”

Victoria’s Secret Lingerie and 5 Star Hotels: Welsh Govt’s £7.5 Million Credit Card Spend

VICTORIAS SECRET

The Welsh government spent £7,508,490.17 of taxpayers’ money on credit card transactions over the last Assembly, including purchases from lingerie brand Victoria’s Secret, iTunes subscriptions, Yachtwear, and items from IKEA, as well as stays in luxury five star hotels. A Freedom of Information response reveals that in total, ministers and civil servants spent an average of £1.5 million a year, with an average spend of £5,893.50 per card last year alone – more than double the UK average.

Expenses cleared on the cards included:

  • £103.91 at Victoria’s Secret, whose website describes the brand as having “The world’s best bras. The sexiest lingerie. The most beautiful Supermodels.”
  • £377.31 on iTunes subscriptions.
  • £370.70 on Yachtwear from high-end provider Yachtshop.
  • £2191.43 at IKEA, and a further £279.90 at Toys R Us.

Luxury hotel trips were also thrown in, including £1,450.76 on the £313 per night (cheapest room) on the five star Hotel New Otani, and £9043.79 on the five star Raffles, Beijing. They even totted up 842.99 on a jolly in Cannes which included bills for the four star Hotel Belle Plage and the prestigious beachfront restaurant Plage le Goeland. Most amusing of all is the officials’ £1569.10 expenditure on Welsh Cakes, including a single spend of £808.35. Living it up while the Welsh NHS collapses. They’ve literally had their cake and eaten it…

Amber Rudd’s £1.3 Million Bonus Bill

DECC logo bonus bung

You’d think after a year of subsidy slicing, the Department for Energy and Climate Change would run a very tight ship. Not so…

New figures show Amber Rudd’s department blew a total of £1,299,729 on “Non-consolidated performance related payments”, aka bonuses, in 2014-15. A whopping £284,586 was earmarked for just 108 “Senior Civil Servants”, meaning these departmental mandarins hooked themselves a median average of £9,800, with some payouts going as high as an austerity-busting £14,700. This is despite an average salary of £109,490 per year. The average private sector bonus for UK workers last year was just £1,500…

Don’t Bother Cummings! Vote Leave Uninvited From Civil Service Summit

DOMINIC

Guido has been passed a very amusing email chain showing how the civil service uninvited Vote Leave’s campaign director to give a talk about the referendum. The civil service had asked Vote Leave for a representative to speak to fast-trackers about Europe next month:

From: Thomas Barker, Civil servant
Subject: Invitation to EU conference
To: Vote Leave

I’m writing on behalf of a group of civil servants organising a conference for early February 2016.

[…] Read the rest

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Quote of the Day

IDS responds to Juncker’s pints analogy earlier:

“Mr Juncker knows a little bit more about the bar than perhaps many of us do.”

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