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13 October 2016

Commons confidential: Brexit fumbles, Boris mumbles – and what really happened with the whips

 “Would any of you, ahem, chaps like to, ahem, contribute to a new royal yacht?” 

By Kevin Maguire

Word reaches my lugs of Boris Johnson sinking like a stone at a gathering of corporate titans. The Foreign Secretary (and yes, I, too, still need to read the professional nincompoop’s title twice to grasp he is indeed so) was launched at the Tory party conference to woo chief executives of multinationals nervous about what Brexit means for their bonuses.

After paying £2,500 plus £1,000 for dinner, the business charabanc to Birmingham not unreasonably expected prized insights in return. My snout whispered that Johnson provided zero and was dead in the water the moment he opened his mouth to beg on behalf of the Queen.

“Now I, ahem, have you all in a, ahem, room,” mumbled BoJo, “would any of you, ahem, chaps like to, ahem, contribute to a new royal yacht?” The suppressed gurgling at the back suggested No.

Not that David Davis and Liam Fox, Athos and Porthos to Johnson’s Aramis in Theresa May’s Three Brexiteers, or Priti Patel, impressed the lured high-rollers. I’m told the Brexit, Trade and Aid Secretaries struggled to explain their roles and overlapped sufficiently at an invitation-only gathering to create confusion in the minds of the ordinary boss class. The running commentary on the government remains negative in corporate Britain.

Jeremy Corbyn’s praetorian guard fingered Pat McFadden as the brains behind the attempted coup and Conor McGinn as the brawn. The latter’s resignation from the whips’ office pre-empted the sack after, as foretold in this column, Nick Brown replaced Rosie Winterton as chief thumbscrewer. Reshuffling Jon Ashworth to Health was presented as compensation for losing his seat on the NEC, yet it’s the Leicester MP’s wife, Emilie Oldknow, that the Corbynistas are really after. With Iain McNicol’s position as general secretary looking a tad stronger, Corbynistas are targeting Oldknow, who is seen as a militant moderate. The plan is to make Momentum’s Sam Tarry Labour campaign chief. Every civil war has its winners and losers.

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Tory number crunchers are adding up to a row. The funereal Philip Hammond, a chancellor whose idea of a good night out is studying statistics, is frustrating Tory comrades – including the Education Secretary, Justine Greening, who was an accountant before swapping figures for politics. “There are two kinds of accountant: the can do and the won’t do,” she was overheard intoning. “Philip’s certainly a won’t do.”

Her private verdict should spice up departmental spending negotiations.

Kevin Maguire is the associate editor(politics) of the Daily Mirror

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This article appears in the 12 Oct 2016 issue of the New Statesman, England’s revenge

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