“Who on earth would take Dominic Raab’s old job, anyway?” we asked this morning. “Sideline your Brexit Secretary once, shame on you. Sideline him twice, and shame on whatever mug steps up to take the post third time round.” Step forward, Steve Barclay.
On which note, we apologise to the new Brexit Secretary. He is a very long way from being a mug. In a party now striving to promote more women to ministerial posts, the standard for male ministers is gradually raised raised. Barclay is a bright, approachable and Brexiteering Lancastrian who sits for a Cambridgeshire seat. The chaos of the 2017 election saw him moved out of the Treasury to Health. He had been the only pro-Leave Minister in the former, that devoutly pro-Remain department, where he watched the goings-on with a sharp eye. Perhaps that’s why he was shunted out.
At any rate, little pretence will be made, now that May has her deal, that Barclay will have much to do with the continuing negotiation. More than ever, Downing Street will be in charge. It evidently wanted a Minister pro-Brexit enough not to agitate the ERG further, but not so senior as to make troublesome waves for Theresa May. The new Secretary of State’s role will be to prepare for No Deal, which Number Ten is desperate to avoid. So it will want him to prepare to wind the department down with a view to abolition soonish.
Since there seems to be no majority for the Prime Minister’s deal, however, Barclay will be in the very front line if a no deal Brexit happens. He knows that Olly Robbins will be viewed as “the real Secretary of State”. But May’s chief negotiator won’t be exposed to the trials and tribulations of No Deal, if it happens: he will.
Ambitious politicians pick up the ball and run with it, even when a haka-chanting pack is bearing down on them. Barclay will have embraced the possibility of being trampled five feet deep in mud – perhaps the likelihood – in the cold-eye knowledge that such may be his fate.