WHEN Theresa May dangled the keys to Chevening, the magnificent country house officially occupied by Foreign Secretaries and luminaries of empire , in front of Boris Johnson’s snout, she will have shushed the antsy former mayor of London and told him he had to learn to share.
Liam Fox, the newly minted International Trade Secretary, upon hearing that he’d be bunking with Boris and David Davis, the Secretary of State for Brexit Which Will Happen Someday, would have smiled sternly and sociopathically, and immediately began plotting the downfall of his blond nemesis.
A leaked letter has now revealed that, only a month into their extended sleepover, Liam and Boris have already fallen out, with Fox making a power grab hoping to annex some of Johnson’s key responsibilities to lend some measure of legitimacy and gravity to his recently invented department.
Writing to Boris, and copying in No 10 to the email with the sneaky propriety of an employee ensuring his colleague must reply gracefully and not simply tell him to bugger off, Fox made a case for his department taking over overseas economic policy as part of a brave new ‘non-suboptimal’ world.
“In my first few weeks as secretary of state for international trade, it has become clear to me that existing cross-Whitehall structures have meant that HM government has not taken the holistic approach it might have on trade and investment agendas,” he wrote, arguing that economic diplomacy is “crucial to delivery of the objectives I have been set by the prime minister as international trade secretary”.
“I strongly believe this will be the only chance we get to materially change the approach we take to trade and investment and, as such, would urge you to consider this proposition favourably. If we fail to take this opportunity to restructure now, I feel we will have a suboptimal structure for the future.”
Boris rebuffed the proposal right away with a cheeky counteroffer to send some staff over to Fox’s department, presumably by wheeling them down Chevening’s marble corridors, while Theresa May has issued a statement from the Swiss Alps saying that she was “unimpressed with this sort of carrying on”.
Labour’s shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry was quick to grab some free PR, denouncing May for basing her ministerial delegation on securing loyalty, regardless of the practical implications for Brexit negotiations.
“Now we see the inevitable dysfunction and turf wars, as they fight between them to grab work that should have been coordinated out of the Foreign Office alone,” she said
“It is high time that the Tories stopped fighting among themselves, started thinking about the good of the country and focused on clearing up the mess that they have created.”
May herself knows better than her underlings how best to run a department. She ran the Home Office for more than six years, criticised by both sides for certain policies, but with no doubt as to her capacity, relative independence and ferocity in guarding her territory.
Squabbling between Fox and Johnson may reflect badly on the Tories but the gruesome twosome will receive the lion’s share of public contempt, while May continues managing a party riven by civil war, with it in her best interests to maintain division in the Brexit camp.