Boris Johnson must empower Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay as a negotiator

Boris Johnson must empower Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay as a negotiator

After winning the Conservative leadership race and becoming our new Prime Minister, Boris Johnson has been about the business of State. One of his most crucial Cabinet positions is his Brexit Secretary. However, during the last three years the role has been verging on ceremonial. Theresa May tied the hands of her Brexit Secretaries in the past, seemingly conducting negotiations single-handedly (along with her Remainer Civil Servant Olly Robbins). It was clearly a ‘damage-limitation’ process under Mrs May. Now it is time the Brexit Secretary was given the mandate to fulfil the role, with a strong Brexit Prime Minister fully behind him.

Theresa May’s dreadful Brexit legacy is the last thing the new Prime Minister wants to emulate. There was clearly a grave disparity between May’s Brexit vision and those of David Davis and Dominic Raab, resulting in the failure of the negotiations. There were never any resignations on the EU’s side – with Michel Barnier and Sabine Weyand being a united and frustrating entity from the very beginning. When Boris returns to Brussels with a committed new negotiating team, we will have an opportunity to achieve the deal our new Prime Minister seeks, and we will either achieve a good deal for Global Britain, or we will Leave the EU on WTO terms.  

As Brexit Secretary, or more formally, ‘Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union’, it is the incumbent’s duty to support the UK’s negotiations and conduct talks in support of the Prime Minister. Both David Davis and Dominic Raab were continually undermined by Theresa May, limiting their ability to negotiate and deliver the Brexit the people voted for. Stephen Barclay must be given the licence to conduct negotiations, rather than having to kowtow to Theresa May’s half-hearted policy line.

According to the official gov.uk website: “The Secretary of State is responsible for the work of the Department for Exiting the European Union”. First on the Department’s listed responsibilities is: ‘To secure the best possible deal’. They never had a focus on No Deal readiness. Such has been the failure of the Department in its no-deal planning so far, it has now been stripped of this responsibility and told to focus on EU negotiations.

The Cabinet Office, under Michael Gove, will now have responsibility for no-deal planning and preparedness. A WTO Brexit is the only way to leave the EU on October 31st if Boris Johnson’s team fail to reach an agreement with the EU. It is the means of trading with the rest of the world and returning sovereignty to the UK Parliament. We have had no-deal preparations frustrated by ‘Remain’ Chancellor Philip Hammond for three years! Planning and preparation for a WTO Brexit must be stepped up immediately to ensure a smooth exit from the EU on October 31st, in all eventualities.

As the second most senior individual going to Brussels to conduct our negotiations, we would expect the Brexit Secretary to have a larger public profile. Yet, the British media and the public conversation on Stephen Barclay’s activities in Brussels are minimal. This is indicative of the lack of influence and responsibility the role possesses – as well as press coverage by some of the biased media. The role’s seeming lack of influence so far has only served to weaken the UK’s international reputation – and our negotiating position. This cannot and must not continue going forward.

One of the fundamental problems with our negotiating strategy so far has been the disparity in purpose between our Civil Servants and our elected ministers. Stephen Barclay must control his Civil Servants and not the reverse. Their advice should be listened to, but not taken as gospel. They are there to aid ministers, not to dictate and direct policy. The UK has been given a new chance on Brexit. We must not make the same mistakes as before. Thankfully with Olly Robbins out the door along with Theresa May, we can hope the power of negotiations will return to ministers.

The days of Britain’s Brexit failure must be put behind us. The lacklustre and ineffective position of the Brexit Secretary must be reignited with purpose and power. The British people want the Brexit Secretary to be a position we can look to with confidence and belief it will produce results for Great Britain, and with no more resignations.

As our new Prime Minister, Boris Johnson must ensure Stephen Barclay is empowered to fulfil the role and lead the Department for Exiting the European Union. We have spent over three years dithering on the issue under Mrs May. We must Get Britain Out of the EU on October 31st, come what may, and we need an effective Brexit Secretary given the power to do so.