Barwell Blamed for Piling Remainers into Government

The latest round of reshuffle appointments has seen Alistair Burt, Alok Sharma, Mark Field and Mark Lancaster promoted to Minister of State level. All of them Remainers…

The penny has dropped this afternoon that the PM’s new chief of staff Gavin Barwell has been slotting in Remainers where ever he can. The replacement of fervent Brexiteer David Jones as Minister of State at the Department for Exiting the European Union was remarkable. Guido understands that Jones – who led the Welsh arm of the Vote Leave campaign – was replaced by Baroness Anelay without reference to his boss David Davis. That raised eyebrows…

Insiders grumble that the charming Barwell, an arch-Remainer, blames the loss of his Croydon seat on Brexit, London being a Remain stronghold. He is taking the opportunity of being restored to the centre of power to put pro-Remain allies into positions of influence. Barwell is also being blamed for the clumsy “end to austerity” spin. Hardly anyone on the Tory backbenches thinks that the loss of a 24 point lead in a 7 week election was due to voters changing their views on fiscal prudence. Britain was not suddenly converted to the merits of harvesting magic money trees…

May Statement on Manchester Attack

I have just chaired a meeting of the government’s emergency committee COBR, where we discussed the details of – and the response to – the appalling events in Manchester last night.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims, and the families and friends of all those affected.

It is now beyond doubt that the people of Manchester, and of this country, have fallen victim to a callous terrorist attack – an attack that targeted some of the youngest people in our society with cold calculation.

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Katie Perrior Joins News UK

Guido hears Theresa May’s recently departed Director of Communications Katie Perrior is joining News UK. She will be working as an election pundit for talkRADIO, News’s burgeoning radio station, alongside journalists from the Times and Sun. It has been well-documented that the advisers who have recently left had a frustrating time working in May’s Downing Street. Will make for interesting listening…

Another No.10 Spinner Quits

Theresa May’s press secretary Lizzie Loudon (above right) is leaving government, the second departure from the PM’s spin team this week after she lost her Director of Communications Katie Perrior (above left) as well. Lizzie was on the Vote Leave campaign and widely respected in the Lobby. A lot of vacancies to be filled on June 9. Of Theresa May’s female aides featured in those “Here come the girls” newspaper profiles earlier this year, only Fi remains… 

Guido also understands Priti Patel’s SpAd Rob Oxley, also formerly of Vote Leave, has been appointed as CCHQ’s Head of News for the election. Vote Leave take control…

6 Things May Could Say in Her Surprise Statement (Or Not)

Westminster is going mad as we await Theresa May’s statement at 11:15 am. Here is our totally uniformed and feverish speculation as drawn from Lobby hacks tweeting on their return from Easter holidays:

  • Early election
  • Some sort of military operation in Syria or North Korea
  • She’s resigning. Health grounds?
  • Direct rule for Northern Ireland
  • Scottish referendum
  • Something to do with the local elections due in two weeks

Nobody knows. Stay tuned for more feverish speculation as we get it…

May Statement Imminent

Theresa May is to make a statement on the steps of Downing Street at 11:15 am. Number 10 won’t say what it’s about and the rumour mill among excitable Lobby hacks is going into overdrive. Standby…

UPDATE: In the last half hour Betfair’s odds on a snap election have narrowed from 4/1 to 5/2.

Number 10: No Early Election

Theresa May’s spokesman could not be clearer:

“There is not going to be one.”

Despite the chatter from excitable Lobby hacks this morning it was always highly unlikely. And now even less likely…

Downing Street: Article 50 Triggered at “End” of March

So much for all those newspaper stories guesstimating that Article 50 would be triggered tomorrow – a “government source” is briefing various political editors that it won’t happen this week or next. A Number 10 spokesman claims they always said it would be at the “END” of March, their capital letters. (They’ve actually previously said “by the end”). Was this the plan all along? Or bounced into it by Sturgeon this morning?

Number 10 Sidelines Baroness Scotland

Number 10 has brutally snubbed Baroness Scotland by failing to mention the Commonwealth Secretary General entirely in its announcement on the Commonwealth Summit today. Downing Street set out the schedule for the summit this morning, which will be attended by leaders from more than 50 countries in April 2018. The press release revealed the Prime Minister and Cabinet will “oversee preparations” and that Amber Rudd and Boris Johnson have been tasked with chairing an Inter-Ministerial Group on the summit. Number 10 adds that they have implemented a new “dedicated unit” led by diplomat Tim Hitchens to look after proceedings:

“A central team has also been established in the Cabinet Office to deliver the Summit, working closely with the Commonwealth Secretariat and member states. The dedicated unit will report directly to the Prime Minister, who has appointed Tim Hitchens as its CEO. Tim Hitchens was previously British Ambassador to Japan, and has served as Africa Director and Europe Director in the Foreign Office, and also as Assistant Private Secretary to The Queen.”
Name-checks for Theresa May, the Cabinet, Amber Rudd, Boris and Tim Hitchens – and no mention whatsoever of Baroness Scotland. Almost as if Number 10 is making clear that it has taken responsibility for the Commonwealth summit away from its scandal-hit Secretary-General. Sidelined…

Senior Leavers: No.10 Must Prepare Public For WTO Brexit

Senior Leave figures want the government to do much more to publicly prepare the public for a Brexit on WTO terms. Theresa May’s speech in January arguing that “no deal is better than a bad deal” pleased Tory Leavers, but they fear not enough has been done by Downing Street to prevent continuity Remainers seizing the narrative and convincing the public that WTO terms would be a disaster. This is why over the weekend Boris Johnson, David Davis and Liam Fox all came out and made encouraging noises about the possibility of no deal. 

There are three reasons why Leavers want Number 10 to do more to make the WTO case. First, the chances of a Brexit along WTO lines are much higher than the government publicly admits. While the official line is that no deal is “unlikely“, behind the scenes senior figures in Number 10 have said they put the probability at around 30%. Most Leavers think this figure is optimistic. Another government source tells Guido they believe the likelihood of a WTO Brexit is 50-50.

Second, demonstrating that WTO terms are acceptable is vital for the negotiation. If Brussels believes Britain thinks WTO rules are a disaster, the threat to walk away is not credible. Going into the negotiation without being happy to accept WTO terms is obviously the worst possible negotiating hand. A Whitehall source says: “People are being told that WTO rules would be the end of the world. We need to explain to them why it isn’t”.

Third, Leavers want to learn the lesson from Cameron’s failure to make any contingency planning for Brexit. This is seen by the government as Cameron’s worst betrayal – Leavers are determined not to repeat the mistake. This means proper preparations for a WTO Brexit, both in terms of contingency planning in Whitehall and preparing the public for that outcome. Matt Ridley’s piece in today’s Times is the sort of narrative Number 10 should be pursuing…

Two New Top Government Hires

Jeremy Corbyn’s economic policy chief Mike Hatchett has defected to the government’s Department for Exiting the European Union. Yep, a senior Corbyn aide has just joined the Tory government apparatus…

Corbyn signed up Hatchett less than a year ago, now he will work for David Davis. A former Treasury mandarin, Hatchett brought a modicum of respectability and considerable experience to Corbyn’s team. Politico report:

“Asked about Hatchett’s departure, a spokesman for the Labour leader declined to comment. However Corbyn’s allies, speaking on condition of anonymity, rejected the accusation that Hatchett had become disillusioned.”

Meanwhile Number 10 has hired Mike Crowhurst as their new Education adviser. Crowhurst was formerly a history teacher in Birmingham and recently a director of Downing Street’s chief of staff Nick Timothy’s old organisation the New Schools Newtork, May tightening her control on new Number 10 hires…

Number 10 Blaming Number 11, Number 11 Blaming Number 10

Treasury sources tell Newsnight’s Nick Watt that “Number 10 just wants to spend money” and that “some of the senior political advisers around the Prime Minister have anti-Tory ideas about raising taxes”. They say Hammond had to fight against May and claim she wanted to raise Capital Gains Tax and NICs for higher-rate taxpayers. Meanwhile there is pushback from Number 10 in the Times, which quotes a source saying of Team Hammond: “They just forgot the manifesto”. Trouble…

James Slack New PM’s Spokesman

Daily Mail political editor James Slack has been appointed as the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesperson. You read it here first… 

Theresa May’s Number 10 SpAds Profiled

Excellent updated Daily Politics film on the Number 10 SpAds who run the country behind the scenes…

All Change in Number 10 Spin Team

Number 10 is dealing with wholesale departures from its civil service spin team. Last month it was revealed Theresa May’s highly-respected official spokesman Helen Bower is leaving to run comms for Boris at FCO. Today it emerges the deputy PMOS, the popular Greg Swift, is off to spin for David Davis at the Brexit department. There is fevered speculation tonight that Daily Mail political editor James Slack is being tapped up for the PMOS role, though there is nothing in the way of an official announcement yet. Sure the No. 10 comms team has been a joy to work in over the last couple of weeks…

Article 50 Party at Downing Street Next Week

The tabling of the Article 50 Bill was an historic moment that Eurosceptics have waited decades to witness, and Downing Street will be throwing a party next week for Tory MPs to celebrate. On Tuesday the Commons is sitting until midnight for the Bill’s second reading. Thirsty MPs in need of refreshments can decamp to Number 9 Downing Street from 7pm where chief whip Gavin Williamson and party chairman Patrick McLoughlin will be hosting colleagues at a bash “to mark this significant event”. As invites to Downing Street drinkies go, this will be one of the best-received in years…

Cable’s Ex-SpAd Giles Wilkes Heading to Downing Street

Usually reliable sources tell Guido that Giles Wilkes, the ex-SpAd to Vince Cable who is currently writing the Lex column and FT leaders, is joining Downing Street in the New Year. He will be covering the corporate governance and industrial strategy policy brief. His appointment shows how far the government has moved on from the free market neo-liberalism of the last three decades…

Nice guy. Big Remainer and Lib Dem obviously. Giles is vehemently opposed to Brexit and tightening up on immigration – so his policy differences with the PM are only on the core goals of Downing Street. As an ex-wonk from CentreForum he can be too clever by half, he was one of the few LibDems who thought tuition fees were the right thing to do, so he has the required classic political awareness and sensitivity of an autistic wonk. Obviously being an “expert economist” and former bookmaker he managed to publicly lose a bet to Guido on the direction of inflation…

His appointment will infuriate the right of the Conservative Party. Wilkes once described tax cuts as “gambling with taxpayers money”. Giles seems not to understand that it is their money in the first place. Mind you he did apologise for calling Guido “innumerate” after he lost that bet to him.

Guido was unable to confirm the appointment at the time of going to pixel despite reaching out to Wilkes.

N.B. SpAds wondering what he will be like to work with can watch him pontificating about SpAds here.

Boris Aide Joins Edelman After Team May Force Him Out

Boris Johnson’s respected former adviser Will Walden has joined lobbying firm Edelman after being forced out of government by Theresa May’s increasingly paranoid aides. Boris wanted Walden, his long-serving, well-liked director of communications, to join him at the Foreign Office. Number 10’s control freakery saw them refuse to sign off on the appointment, so Walden has moved to the private sector to earn a decent salary as Edelman’s MD. A talented public servant lost to the dark side thanks to more silliness from Downing Street…

PM’s Aides Turn Anger on CCHQ

Eagle-eyed tweeters will have noticed that the CCHQ Twitter account has not posted anything for six days. Nothing at all, in fact, since their ill-fated tweets directly targeting Labour MPs who abstained on the Article 50 vote. The attack misfired after it emerged some of the Labour MPs were away on international trips with Tory colleagues who also didn’t vote, a fact Labour took great delight in publicising. Theresa May’s famously relaxed and easy going Downing Street aides are said to have taken particular exception to the line of attack. Or as one Tory insider puts it:

“No. 10 went f*cking apesh*t, like bone throwing mad.”

Nicky Morgan got off lightly…

Leadsom First Out of Blocks With 25 Year Brexit Plan

leadsom

Super-keen Andrea Leadsom is the first Cabinet minister to deliver a departmental plan for Brexit to Downing Street. While some lethargic ministers are just beginning to get started, Number 10 were pleasantly surprised to receive a 25-year proposal from Andrea for how Brexit Britain should approach the environment.[…] Read the rest

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According to the Mail, when Tory MP Marcus Fysh called Venezuela a ‘socialist experiment gone wrong’ at PMQs, Jeremy Corbyn mouthed:

“What a complete w*nker.”

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