Robbins’ Private Sector Options

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…

Robbins Hits Back at Brussels Briefing

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…

No.10, Treasury and Robbins’ Bid to Wreck Max Fac

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:

If the civil service stopped trying to fight Brexit and just got on with it, things would be going a lot better for Number 10.

Civil Service Workshops With Paul Mason and AC Grayling

Where do the civil service get all their brilliant ideas? Perhaps from the workshops they run for mandarins billed as “bringing the world’s leading thinkers to Whitehall”. On 30 May the Treasury is inviting in AC Grayling, number one on Guido’s list of 10 people who’ve been driven mad by Brexit, to address staff. Twitter’s nutty professor, who has called Brexiters “vermin“, sought a general strike to oppose Brexit and alleged other ultra-Remainers were being “silenced” by forces of the state, will be speaking as part of the Treasury’s “Thought Experiment” series. The Treasury tell Guido their speakers are balanced. Grayling certainly isn’t being silenced by forces of the state, they’re giving him a platform.

A few days earlier, on 24 May, civil servants at BEIS will be addressed by Paul Mason. The mad Corbynista is giving a speech titled “Economic History” as part of the department’s “Alternative Approaches to Economics” series. Yes, the leather-jacketed revolutionary hero of the insurgent left will be coming in to share his wisdom with the heart of the government machine. These events are taking place during the working day. Don’t civil servants have anything better to be doing?

No.10 / Civil Service Love In

In response to more Brexiteer criticism of Olly Robbins’ customs partnership proposal in the Sunday newspapers, a clear concerted effort from Number 10 to back their Remainer civil servants:

Jeremy Heywood sends some love back:

Hardly going to reassure Leavers. Pass the sick bucket…

Foreign Office’s Top Civil Servant in Spectacular Amritsar Blunder

Simon McDonald is the permanent secretary at the Foreign Office. He is its top civil servant. He thinks the Golden Temple in Amritsar is a mosque. Almost unbelievably, this tweet was up for 10 hours before anyone at the FCO thought to correct it. McDonald grovels: “I was wrong: I am sorry”. Foreign Office gaffes don’t come worse than that…

Overwhelming Anti-Brexit Bias of Former Top Civil Servants

Anti-Brexit bias runs like a spinal cord through the bloated body of civil servants and ex-mandarins that make up Whitehall. This group of metropolitan remainers – whose fat pensions are funded by the taxpayer – are an influence network which has been regularly accused of trying to hamper Brexit. Many of them have seats in the House of Lords. Last night every living former Cabinet Secretary voted against the government on the customs union. A Guido probe reveals the extent to which former top civil servants share anti-Brexit views…

Let’s start with Lord David Hannay, formerly Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the European Economic Community. He tarred all Leave voters with the same brush, calling them “feckless” during a Parliamentary debate last year. That’s 17,410,742 voters dismissed…

Lord Robin Butler – Cabinet Secretary for a decade under Thatcher, Major and Blair, loudly and publicly opposes Brexit. He claims leaving the EU:

“Strikes a dagger to my soul… The United Kingdom being motivated by an illusory quest for independence, in a world which becomes more interdependent day by day, is a painful prospect.”

Sir John Kerr – former Permanent Under Secretary of State at the Foreign Office (a particular hotbed of remain sentiment) – wants Article 50 reversed and believes the UK should accept a subordinate position to the EU:

“At any stage we can change our minds if we want to… we can remember that an Article 50 notification can always be withdrawn… in the end, we will basically come to heel.”

Lord Sir Nick MacPherson, Permanent Secretary to the Treasury for more than a decade, suggested stopping Article 50, even if it demands a change of government:

“Lord Kerr drafted Art. 50 and entirely right that Brexit can be halted at any time. Odds are against but all governments’ lives are finite.”

Lord Ricketts, former Permanent Under Secretary of State of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, denied that the EU intends to create its own army despite evidence to the contrary:

“I think we can be completely relaxed about the prospect of a European army; it is never going to happen.”

Former Head of the Civil Service Lord Kerslake – often deployed by Corbynistas as a policy ally – says there is “no upside” to Brexit:

“The challenge here, and I’ll be very direct about this – from my perspective there is no upside [to Brexit]. This is about damage limitation. And we’re working in a situation where policy has not been properly settled.”

Sir Martin Donnelly – Permanent Secretary of the Department for International Trade until last year, prefers a food analogy. He compared leaving the Customs Union to sign trade deals with other countries to:

“Giving up a three-course meal now in favour of the promise of a packet of crisps”

And let’s not forget Lord Gus O’Donnell, Cabinet Secretary from 2005-2015, who publicly campaigned for ‘remain’. Faced with the legacy of this gang of Brussels-loving Sir Humprheys, no wonder Brexiteers think Whitehall is working against them…

How Did Someone Who Thinks We Should Stay in the Customs Union End Up Running DIT?

Former Department for International Trade permanent secretary Martin Donnelly’s anti-Brexit speech today has been seized upon by Remainers and given top billing by the Today programme. Donnelly’s latest whinge is nothing new – he essentially says this morning that we should stay in the single market and customs union, just as he did three months ago. Not that that’s stopping the BBC and Remain media from treating it as new information. The more pertinent question is how on earth did someone who thinks we should stay in the customs union end up in charge of a department the whole point of which is to sign trade deals outside the customs union? 

The reaction on Whitehall this morning is more one of rolled eyes than surprise. A former Eurocrat, Donnelly was never rated, neither by ministers nor Jeremy Heywood. Indeed they tried to push him out repeatedly pre-referendum before he finally took a knighthood and left. Donnelly tells you all you need to know about the civil service being stuffed full of Remainers trying to undermine the process… hardly helpful for his former colleagues.

Jeremy Heywood Openly Endorses Civil Service’s Political Campaigning

Over the last few days some of the supposedly ‘great and the good’ have been clasping their pearls and theatrically reaching for the smelling salts at the suggestion that civil servants might have some groupthink going on, and that the Treasury in particular might be politically suspect when it comes to forecasting. Former heads of the civil service Andrew Turnbull and Gus O’Donnell came over like pantomime dames at the impilication, comparing Brexiteers to Hitler and snake oil salesman.

What are the views of the most recent ex-head of the civil service, Lord Kerslake? Strangely he was silent this weekend, fortunately we have the benefit of being able to read his 44 page independent review published last year Rethinking the Treasury. It was produced by another heavyweight panel of ‘the great and the good’ – and it was scathing…

The theme of the report is that the Treasury tells Chancellors what they want to hear, suffering from an arrogant inward looking “groupthink“, tailoring forecasts and analysis accordingly. In a wide-ranging criticism of the Treasury’s macroeconomic forecasting, Kerslake notes that “The creation of the Office for Budget Responsibility reflected a conscious decision to outsource Treasury responsibility for forecasting…”. He warned of “the specific need to re-establish the department’s credibility in terms of the impartiality of its advice and hence the importance of its economic expertise in designing Brexit.” Something Brexiters in government don’t believe has happened.

Jeremy Heywood of course pretends the civil service is impartial and departmental research is objective analysis. He is pictured above at the Civil Service Awards, held after the Scottish Referendum, presenting his Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Civil Service Award to the Treasury’s Scotland Analysis Programme Team. At the time of the referendum their analysis was bitterly contested by the SNP as politicised and heavily slanted. Something the civil service denied haughtily at the time in much the same way it is doing today with its Brexit forecasts. 

Celebrating after receiving the award team members spoke to Civil Service World Magazine. Mario Pisani, perhaps a little too in vino veritas said:

 “… we’re part of a political campaign. We were doing everything from the analysis, to the advertising, to the communications. I just felt a massive sense of being part of the operation. This being recognised makes me feel just incredibly proud.” 

Shannon Cochrane said:

“… it is possible for civil servants to work on things that are inherently political and quite difficult and you’re very close to the line of what is appropriate…”

Civil Service World is the trade press for civil servants, who are not famed for being candid in public. Very revealing – Heywood signalling that if you do get too close to, or even cross, the line in supporting his policy goals, he will be very pleased….

Former Civil Service Chiefs: Brexiters are Crazy Nazis

On the front page of the Observer the former head of the civil service Andrew Turnbull compares Brexiters to Nazis. On Peston his successor Gus O’Donnell called Leavers “completely crazy” snake oil salesmen. Guido won’t hold his breath for the same Twitter outrage as seen after the “mutineer” front pages criticising Remainers. Almost as if Rees-Mogg and Steve Baker have a point…

Heywood Hits Back

Jeremy Heywood with an unsubtle defence of his Brexit doom document, praising his civil service colleagues for “making evidence-based policy”. Thought the line was the civil service wasn’t trying to “make” policy?

10 Questions For Jeremy Heywood to Answer

Jeremy Heywood is feeling “heat” from Number 10 this morning according to Whitehall sources. Guido will believe it when he sees it, Theresa May’s aides usually allow the Cabinet Secretary to walk all over them. The Sun reveals Heywood “played a key role in coordinating” the Brexit doom document and was consulted on it last month. The Times reckons he was ultimately “responsible” and “timed the paper’s release to “soften up” Cabinet ministers before a crucial meeting next week to discuss the government’s objectives for a future economic relationship with the EU”. Which means Heywood has several questions to answer this morning:

  • What was his role in the genesis of the project?
  • When did he find out about it?
  • When did he tell ministers about it?
  • When did he tell the Prime Minister?
  • Why did his civil servants start the project off their own backs, without permission from ministers?
  • Which civil servants were involved, in which departments?
  • To whom was the work accountable?
  • What role did the cross-Whitehall Government Economic Service play?
  • Is it normal for departments to carry out work about which their ministers have no knowledge?
  • According to Tim Shipman’s “Fall Out”, Heywood thought the Treasury’s referendum predictions were wrong. How? Why? How are these figures different? What lessons have been learned since then?

A senior government source says this morning that Heywood has “exceeded his mandate”… Number 10 have plenty to be asking him…

Did Heywood Have Permission to Defend Remain Ally Robbins?

Worth watching Nick Watt’s profile of Theresa May’s Brexit supremo Olly Robbins, which draws on Guido’s story about his communist past and reveals David Davis regularly mocks his former Soviet sympathies. The film also carried a rare public statement from Cabinet Secretary Jeremy Heywood defending his Remain ally:

“The civil service is putting enormous effort and many of its very best people into making a success of the project. It is being tested on a daily basis and I am very proud of what we have – so far – delivered. Morale is at record-levels, proving once again that the civil service is at is very best when under pressure.”

The civil service code is clear: mandarins must “ensure you have ministerial authorisation for any contact with the media”. Which means May or Lidington will have had to authorise this statement, or else Heywood has broken the ministerial code. Did they? Or do they just let him do what he wants…

Ultra-Remainers Claiming End State Victory

Wishful thinking from the Treasury’s ultra-Remain former Perm Sec? Or is he onto something?

We have seen briefings before from the Treasury that May is going to end up closer to Hammond’s vision of the end state than Boris’ and Gove’s, so it’s worth taking this with a pinch of salt. But the Remainers’ optimism explains the increasing concerns of Cabinet Brexiters that we are not going to pursue a Brexit that makes the most of leaving…

Knives Out For Heywood and Robbins

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.

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.[…] Read the rest

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