Steve Baker’s appointment provides huge reassurance that Brexit remains on course

Steve Baker’s appointment provides huge reassurance that Brexit remains on course

When writing my morning email to BrexitCentral subscribers yesterday (if you’re not receiving it, you can get if for free by clicking here), I wrote that I was unnerved by the news that David Jones had been sacked as a minister at the Brexit Department, while fellow minister Lord Bridges (who had expertly steered the Article 50 legislation through the Lords) had decided to quit his post. Bridges had reportedly found relations with Downing Street strained, while there was no obvious reason for firing the former Cabinet Minister Jones just a week before the Brexit negotiations are set to begin.

And when I learned later yesterday morning that Brexit Secretary David Davis had not even been made aware by the Prime Minister in advance that she was about to remove the man who was effectively his deputy at this critical time, that only added to my concerns.

This came on top of an onslaught from a variety of continuity Remain backers (pushed in many media outlets) – a point made by Hugh Bennett in his piece yesterday – while on Monday night the Prime Minister’s new Chief of Staff, Gavin Barwell (who had lost his Croydon Central seat last week) had included people being “angry about Brexit” among the reasons for the Conservatives’ electoral failure.

While he might seek to justify that experience in his London constituency, that is not the message I have picked up from conversations with numerous Tories, both elected and defeated, that I have had over the last couple of days. In many seats Brexit was deemed a positive for the party – look at the kind of seats they gained (and others they nearly won) in the Midlands and North of England. Meanwhile, in much of the country it was deemed an irrelevance. “Brexit wasn’t an election issue – that was the problem,” one MP told me, noting that Labour’s acceptance of leaving the single market had neutralised the EU as an issue and caused voters to consider other matters when casting their ballot.

So, like may BrexitCentral readers, I was feeling in need of some reassurance that the Government’s Brexit agenda was still on track. So, too, were a number of Brexiteer Tory MPs and yesterday morning many of the 80 or so members of the European Research Group, chaired by Steve Baker, gathered in Committee Room 14 for a meeting with (now reappointed) Brexit minister, Robin Walker, and Greg Hands and Mark Garnier from the Department for International Trade. The MPs present were assured that government policy had not changed and that the agenda of February’s White Paper – outside the single market and customs unions, British law again being supreme etc – very much remained in place.

Guido Fawkes reported Steve Baker as describing the meeting as “hugely encouraging” and Baker himself then tweeted:  

“The language of ‘hard’ vs ‘soft’ Brexit is so misleading. We need a good, clean exit which minimises disruption and maximises opportunity. In other words, we need the ‘softest’ exit consistent with actually leaving and controlling laws, money, borders and trade and that means delivering on the white paper so the Department for International Trade can get on with improving UK and global trade.”

Quite right too. And then later in the afternoon came arguably the best news that any doubter of the Government’s intentions could have received: Baker himself was joining the Government as a minister at the Department for Exiting the European Union. He played a huge role during the referendum as Co-Chairman of Conservatives for Britain and since in that role chairing the European Research Group, where he brought together Conservative and – significantly – DUP MPs supporting the Government in the delivery of Brexit from the backbenches. It is an appointment which sends a very clear signal that there will be no compromising on the fundamentals of Brexit as set out in the White Paper.

And while we have seen further unhelpful interventions from Remain-backing former Prime Ministers Sir John Major and David Cameron over the last 24 hours, today’s Telegraph suggests that the current incumbent remains resolute. Its splash today opens with the news that “Theresa May has signalled she will not compromise over Brexit despite growing demands for a change in approach in the wake of last week’s election result.”

I, for one, am feeling far more optimistic than I was 24 hours ago.