I asked a leader of the Vote Leave campaign whether the new Brexit secretary, Steve Barclay had been a big figure in the campaign. The reply came back “who?”. Which says everything about how that job has changed in the two and a half years since it was created.
When it was first filled by David Davis it was billed as one of the great offices of state, on a par with Chancellor,arguably senior to Foreign Secretary. And so it had to be filled by one of the biggest “true” Brexiters, Davis.
Then when Davis quit in July because he so hated the Prime Minister’s Chequers policy for the UK’s long-term relationship with the EU, her credibility as a deliverer of a proper Brexit was in pieces. So she was obliged to replace Davis with another prominent Brexiter in Dominic Raab - who was seen by many as Davis’s protégé and heir.
But everything changed after Raab announced he could not stomach staying in the job and cabinet to promote a Brexit Withdrawal Agreement that he sees as an affront to the sovereignty of the UK.
For a brief moment yesterday, Theresa May tried to persuade Michael Gove - the last of the biggest Brexiters still in the cabinet - to fill Raab’s boots. But Gove said he would only take it if he was given a mandate to renegotiate that Withdrawal Agreement so hated by many Tory Brexiters. She declined his conditions.
And so the notion that the Brexit Secretary is in charge of taking us out of the EU has been exposed as the fiction it always was. In truth the PM and her civil service negotiator, Olly Robbins have determined and shaped everything that matters about our Brexit -though during a midsummer’s night dream Davis and Raab thought they might be in charge. Dream over.
The new Brexit secretary Barclay has been told he can’t go anywhere near Brussels while the final details of our exit from the EU are finalised. Only the PM will go there and do that. So Barclays’task is to turn the deal into UK legislation. He’s an implementer, not a creator.
And one other thing. The appointment shows May has accepted the schism in her party cannot be mended. She knows if she gets her Brexit plan through parliament - which seems deeply implausible -it will be by defeating the Brexiters, not as their champion carried triumphant on their shoulders through the streets of merrie England. Hers would be a Brexit for non-believers - which for the Raabs and Davises, but not apparently the Barclays, means it is NO BREXIT AT ALL.