Raab and Robbins at the Brexit Committee

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Raab and Robbins at the Brexit Committee
« on: July 26, 2018, 09:11:03 AM »
 Good morning!
Yesterday, as promised, saw the publication of a White Paper by the Brexit Department covering the legislation that will be required to enact the Withdrawal Agreement, with Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab explaining to the Commons it was all about "delivering a smooth and orderly Brexit". Click here to watch his statement to MP and a selection of the questions he was asked by backbenchers thereafter - while you can read the White Paper here.
There then followed the publication of a written statement from Theresa May, ostensibly about a "Machinery of Government Change", in which the Prime Minister formalised Downing Street's control of the Brexit negotiations - something which has effectively been the case for months and contributed to David Davis's resignation as Brexit Secretary. So in a sense she was telling us something had changed, when really it hadn't (which makes a change from saying nothing has changed, when it clearly has).
In the statement, the Prime Minister said that "I will lead the negotiations, with the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union deputising on my behalf", with Olly Robbins' Europe Unit at the Cabinet Office having "overall responsibility for the preparation and conduct of the negotiations, drawing upon support from DExEU and other departments as required". The statement continued:
"DExEU will continue to lead on all of the Government’s preparations for Brexit: domestic preparations in both a deal and a no deal scenario, all of the necessary legislation, and preparations for the negotiations to implement the detail of the Future Framework. To support this, DExEU will recruit some new staff, and a number of Cabinet Office officials coordinating work on preparedness will move to DExEU while maintaining close ties with both departments."
Click here to read the statement.
Raab and Robbins then (delayed by about an hour due to the Commons statement) made their way to Hilary Benn's Brexit Select Committee for a lengthy grilling. On the machinery of government change, Raab told the MPs that it amounted to "some shifting of the Whitehall deckchairs", but that he and Robbins "have been working very closely together from day one, to make sure there is one team, one chain of command, that we get the very best from our brilliant civil servants and that we have got full assertion of ministerial accountability".
Much of the session saw Brexiteer MPs on the committee trying (to little avail) to get to the bottom of how the pre-Chequers draft of the big Brexit White Paper overseen by David Davis came to be replaced by the version emanating from Robbins' unit at the Cabinet Office:
When John Whittingdale pointed out that Davis himself had suggested the Chequers plan was sprung upon him without any ability to influence the proposal, Olly Robbins literally shrugged, having insisted: "It's certainly not a picture of the days and weeks leading up to Chequers that I, or more importantly the Prime Minister, would recognise" - watch here
Robbins insisted that the Chequers plan was consistent with May's Mansion House speech, and that there had merely been an "evolution" of the policy - watch here - and also denied that vital details were kept from ministers before Chequers - watch here
Probed by Tory MP Craig Mackinlay, Robbins said "I honestly don't recognise the picture you're painting" when it was suggested that he had ripped up the version of the White Paper overseen by David Davis - watch here
Towards the end of the session, Jacob Rees-Mogg weighed in on the matter. After initially accusing Robbins of having earlier avoided giving answers in the style of Sir Humphrey, he sought in particular to establish the timeline of when Robbins and his colleagues started preparing the papers for the Cabinet. Rees-Mogg repeated the accusation of others that the plans presented to the Cabinet at Chequers appeared to have been drawn up by Robbins' Europe Unit without the knowledge of David Davis, given that DExEU was working on its own White Paper at the time. "There wasn't some sudden twist in the road where one White Paper was done away with and a new White Paper written," Robbins continued to insist. Click here to watch the full exchanges between Rees-Mogg and Robbins.
A couple of other notable exchanges from the session:
DUP MP Sammy Wilson noted that the compromises proposed in the White Paper are predicated on the need to avoid a hard border in Ireland, yet the Irish Government has stated that they have been assured by the EU that in the event of no deal there wouldn't have to be a hard border. So why, he asked Robbins, have we made compromises to facilitate something the EU say is never going to happen? Robbins replied that the Chequers package was about "a lot more than trying to resolve the border" - watch here
Challenged by Craig Mackinlay that the common rule book for goods as proposed at Chequers would mean international trade deals being off of the table, Raab admitted: "I'm not going to tell you that if we didn't have full regulatory autonomy it wouldn't be an additional string to our bow in free trade negotiations" - watch here
The session may not have elucidated as many answers as we would have liked, but given the power that Olly Robbins has evidently been handed by the Prime Minister, it is essential that he be subject to this kind of sustained scrutiny on a regular basis going forward.     
On the website today, there's  an excellent piece by parliamentary researcher Christopher Howarth, considering the recent positioning and posturing of Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in respect of Brexit. Specifically, Christopher points out just what a dangerous course he is embarked upon, given that his weaponisation of the Irish border seems to heighten the possibility of a 'no deal' outcome - which Ireland needs to avoid more than anyone. Click here to read his piece.
As to today's agenda, most European eyes will be on Washington DC, where European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, accompanied by EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström, will be meeting President Trump at the White House. Meanwhile, not far away from there, International Trade Secretary Liam Fox will be delivering the Margaret Thatcher Freedom Lecture at the Heritage Foundation.
And if you're near a radio tonight, listen out for Why I Changed My Mind on Radio 4 at 8.45pm featuring Gisela Stuart explaining how she went from being a europhile to the woman who chaired the successful Vote Leave campaign.   
As ever, do follow BrexitCentral on Twitter for updates throughout the day.
Jonathan Isaby
Editor, BrexitCentral

Theresa May faces ‘coup’ claims as she sidelines Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab and boosts controversial Brexit guru Olly Robbins...
Theresa May's top Europe adviser faced claims of a "coup d'etat" after the prime minister announced the Brexit department will no longer be responsible for negotiating the country's EU divorce. Olly Robbins, who leads a team of civil servants within the Cabinet Office, has seen his "Europe unit" given overall responsibility for negotiations with Brussels. Mrs May's shake-up of Whitehall prompted claims of a demotion for new Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab little more than two weeks into the job. It could also inflame tensions with Conservative Brexiteers, who eye Mr Robbins with suspicion and accuse him of being behind the prime minister's unpopular Chequers plan for leaving the EU… The prime minister added Mr Raab's DExEU officials will now solely focus on Brexit preparations, including those for a "no deal" outcome. News of Mrs May's statement was delivered as both Mr Raab and Mr Robbins gave evidence to the House of Commons Brexit committee on Tuesday. The pair presented a united front, with Mr Raab insisting there was "no tension" between him and Mr Robbins despite "some shifting of the Whitehall deckchairs". The Brexit secretary revealed he was made aware of the shake-up in a conversation with Mrs May when he took on the role, as he stressed his department had not been "downgraded" and there was "one team" handling Brexit. - Sky News
Theresa May takes personal charge of Brexit talks - BBC News
Theresa May takes control of Brexit - Politico
May takes control of Brexit talks in bid for softer EU split - Bloomberg
May sidelines Brexit Department to take control of Brussels talks -
> WATCH: Dominic Raab admits the Chequers plan for a common rulebook will hamper the UK’s ability to sign free trade deals after Brexit

...as Robbins faces angry MPs in rare appearance in front of Brexit Select Committee
[F]ormer Brexit Department Chief of Staff Stewart Jackson branded it a “long predicted defenestration” that was a “transfer of power to the unaccountable Cabinet Office Europe Unit and hard core Remainers.” In a rare public appearance Mr Robbins rejected claims of a “coup d'etat” and insisted that he had not secretly gone behind the back of Mr Davis and forced his walk out… Appearing at the Commons Brexit committee, Mr Robbins insisted that he had not sidelined Mr Davis or torn up the Brexit department's own Brexit blueprint, rather the position had “evolved”. However when confronted by MPs that Mr Davis had directly contradicted his version of events, the civil service high flyer would only shrug. Mr Jackson had accused Mr Robbins of running "shadow, parallel operation" and keeping officials and ministers from the Brexit department "in the dark" about the Chequers plan… When Mrs May became Prime Minister in 2016 she promised that the negotiations with Brussels would be led by a Brexiteer. She said: "I will create a new department responsible for conducting Britain’s negotiation with the EU. It will be led by a senior Secretary of State – and I will make sure that the position is taken by an MP who campaigned for Britain to leave the EU." - The Sun
Brexiteer MPs round on Olly Robbins at select committee - Steerpike
'It fails the sniff test!' Anger as Remainer civil servant granted total control of Brexit - Express 

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