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9 November 2016

Commons confidential: The new Brexit elite

Has Liam Fox been eyeing up deals with South Korea and the Gulf states?

By Kevin Maguire

The suspicion that anti-EU, Thatcherite, high-roller elites are manipulating Brexit for their own ends was reinforced by an ideological vanguard at the Bulgari Hotel in Knightsbridge. Assembled at the five-star venue (where suites cost more than £6,300 a night) for the birth of New Direction, a refashioning of the old Foundation for European Reform, were the speculator Jon Moulton, the economist Roger Bootle, the Leave puppeteer Matthew Elliott and a Bentley full of moneyed players.

My snout whispers that the International Trade Secretary, Liam Fox, disclosed that he was eyeing initial deals with South Korea and the Gulf states. Fox winced when the Brexit Secretary, David Davis, said that he wasn’t considering migration quotas, which prompts the question: how would he control EU migrant workers? The cabinet Brexit committee, Davis added, was discovering that Britain’s departure is “fiendishly complicated”. I don’t recall Brexiteers admitting this before the referendum. But I remember a pledge of £350m a week for the NHS. This is no longer being dangled.

Labour shadow cabinet members grumble that Jeremy Corbyn hogs the weekly agenda, with most items listed for introduction by a leader who speaks from cue cards. Frontbenchers while away the hours on their phones and iPads, answering texts and emails. Everybody was on best behaviour for the official photograph, but mystery surrounds the moving of the name card of the shadow housing secretary, John Healey, from a corner to near Corbyn, so that the returned rebel was in a prime spot for the camera. The following week, Healey went back to his remote location. He is fortunate not to have been erased from official snaps like Trotsky.

Thirsty work on ITV’s Peston on Sunday: the SNP life force Mhairi “Rum And” Black was pictured on Twitter at 11.29am with a near-empty post-chat pint of “a little light refreshment”. The Bravehearts arrived in Westminster denouncing parliament’s vices before settling in to the boozy Sports and Social Club. Now they’re up in arms, scenting Sassenach revenge, over an earlier closing time of 10.30pm for the tartan clan’s favourite watering hole. It has been added to the long list of separatist grievances.

Corbyn’s Guardian mouthpiece Seumas Milne’s gaffes are covered by lobby hacks, yet not those of Greg Swift, a No 10 spinner recruited from the Daily Express. In recent weeks, Swift wrongly asserted that Amber Rudd wasn’t planning to compel firms to list their migrant workers, MPs couldn’t vote in a debate to de-knight Philip Green, and excluding student visas from migration figures was under review. I could add others and include Milne’s gaffes in the interests of balance.

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

This article appears in the 10 Nov 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump apocalypse