When the EU responds to the Government’s new Brexit policy – asking for concessions to its position, as it is bound to do; and then obtaining them, on the evidence available so far – the legal meaning of any agreement will be crucial. Martin Howe offered a foretaste of what may be to come with his forensic examination of the new Brexit policy signed off at Chequers.
The most senior appointment in the shuffle was that of Jeremy Hunt as Foreign Secretary. Hunt strides triumphantly into King Charles Street having served a record term as Health Secretary; calmed the politics of the service after the Lansley reform fiasco; then taken on the junior doctors and lived to tell the tale, and finally won the battle with the Treasury for more NHS cash. Conservative Health Secretaries are invariably loathed by vast swathes of the service’s non-Tory voting staff (and others). Hunt thus became The Most Hated Man In Britain. We none the less believe that a time will come when the NHS will miss him.
Matt Hancock – the George Osborne protege who stayed on under Theresa May, worked hard, showed grip and was very well suited to the Culture Department – now takes Hunt’s place as T.M.H.M.I.B. His was the most eye-catching move of the mini-shuffle. We cross our fingers for him.
But why replace Hancock with Jeremy Wright, the genial Attorney-General? The answer must surely to create a vacancy for Geoffrey Cox to fill. Which takes is to the reshuffle’s most significant appointment.
The Government may well need a heavyweight lawyer during the next few months who can go head to head with the likes of Howe, and not be carried off in an ambulance. And let’s make no bones about it. Wright is an able politician, but a fairly junior lawyer. Cox is a proper QC – appointed one in 2003, before his election to the Commons in 2005, having co-founded his own set of chambers.
Ruddy-cheeked, well-rounded and possessor of a basso profundo voice that would not be out of place in a Russian Orthodox cathedral choir, Cox is also a freak survivor from a bygone age – that in which well-heeled barristers did their bit in the courts each morning, before sweeping off to the Commons in the afternoon to filibust in style. He is much in demand in the courts and eye-wateringly well-paid. Last summer, he topped a list of richest MPs in terms of income. Since this site believes that MPs shouldn’t be full-time politicians but should have outside interests, we previously reported his activities under the neutral headline: Geoffrey Cox, my hero.
His constituents couldn’t seem to care less, having re-elected him three times. There is a bit of a mystery about why he hasn’t, given the shortage of QCs in the Commons, had a Government job before. You may reply that Mrs Cox – Lady-Cox-to-be? – would surely have exiled him from the marital bed had he even whispered of taking the required pay cut.
What may or may not now be happening in that bed is none of the business of ConservativeHome. But, at any rate, Cox is now Attorney-General. One more thing: he backed Leave in the EU referendum, but operates, with some older MPs such as Cheryl Gillan and Robert Syms, at arms-length from the European Research Group. A very useful man for Theresa May to have around.
Yesterday evening, just before his appointment, he was on his feet at the 1922 Committee…disagreeing with Howe’s view of the Chequers policy. Expect to hear more of where that came from.