Mundell's 'carpet-bagger' jibe at Raab exposes bitter Tory Brexit divisions

Scottish Secretary David Mundell speaking to our political editor Peter MacMahon early today. Credit: ITV Border

Someone I know who was involved at a high level in the Labour party once described his job as "the management of hatred".

Pity then those tasked with managing today's Conservative party and government. They not only have hatred, but loathing, suspicion, distrust and many more vices to manage too.

On the evidence of the last few days of the Prime Minister's Brexit crisis - and it is a crisis - it's become clear the party managers are trying to manage the unmanageable.

That's the context in which we should consider remarks today from the Scottish Secretary, and south of Scotland MP, David Mundell.

Though he is not beyond the odd pointed political barb, Mr Mundell generally has a reputation for courtesy and politeness with opponents and discretion when it comes to internal party divisions.

But as two more Cabinet colleagues resign, the gloves are off. It's mild-mannered Mundell no more. Which tells you a lot.

In an exclusive interview with me for tonight's Representing Border, I asked the Secretary of State about the resignation today as Brexit Secretary of Dominic Raab.

Mr Mundell told me: "I'm not taking lessons on standing up for our United Kingdom from carpet-baggers. "Only a couple of years ago Dominic Raab was proposing to introduce a Bill of Rights into Scotland which would have over-riden the Scottish legal system and devolution.

"So I'm not impressed by his latter-day commitment to the Union. I'm sure this is more about manoeuvring and leadership."

Mr Mundell also made it clear that while he is signed up to the principles in the draft agreement Theresa May is trying, without much success, to sell to her party and the Commons he is still studying the detail on both Northern Ireland and fishing.

Not so long ago he and the Scottish Tory leader, Ruth Davidson, wrote to the Prime Minister and warned they could not accept anything that threatened the integrity of the United Kingdom.

In particular, they said they were against a deal with gave Northern Ireland special status, and led to what in effect would be a Border down the Irish sea.

In his resignation letter Mr Raab said the plans for Northern Ireland would do just that. This, surely, is a problem for Mr Mundell and Ms Davidson?The Scottish Secretary told me: "I am absolutely committed to the integrity of the United Kingdom.

"I made clear at the cabinet yesterday that I would need to understand in great detail the 150 pages of the Northern Ireland protocol and be satisfied that they didn't indeed compromise the integrity of the United Kingdom.

"But I also take very seriously my job in ensuring that Scotland and the United Kingdom gets the best possible Brexit that doesn't also threaten the integrity of the United Kingdom."

How does he square his view of Mr Raab with that of one of his Scottish Tory colleagues, Ross Thomson, the MP for Aberdeen South and Brexiteer, who called the now ex-Brexit Secretary "a hero" for resigning.

Pro-European Union demonstrators protest outside of Downing Street. Credit: PA

Mr Mundell replied: "Mr Thomson has very well established views in relation to Brexit and I simply don't agree with him on that. "I don't have any evidence of Mr Raab previously being in the forefront of standing up for the Union and I have quite a lot of evidence of him going the other way. I'm afraid I regard this as positioning."

He added: "What I'm about is the serious business of keeping the United Kingdom together on the basis of the (independence) referendum we fought in Scotland in 2014, keeping it together on the basis of ensuring that we have an integrity as we leave the EU, that there was not a customs border down the Irish Sea."

He continued: "But of course there is a lot of detail in the Northern Ireland protocol and that needs to be examined closely."I believe that the best way of keeping the United Kingdom together is to ensure that we have a deal as we leave the EU, that Brexit delivers for Scotland and the rest of the UK.

"That's what I'm focused on not being part of some soap opera of resignations and I'm not going to be bounced into resigning by carpet-baggers."

So that is a staunch defence of the government's position, but there are still those caveats. The Scottish Secretary told me the best way to deliver for Scotland is to get a deal "imperfect or otherwise".

What does he say to Mr Raab, and Esther McVey, who quit today as Work and Pensions Secretary, who would argue they are acting on principle, as the Brexit deal as proposed does not delver on what was promised in the referendum?

Further bluntness. Mr Mundell replied: "I suspect what these people really want to see is no deal."

But he then also raised the issue of fishing. He and his 12 other Tory MPs wrote to the Prime Minister on the day of Brexit deal Cabinet meeting, expressing their concerns.

The Scottish Secretary told me: "I am prepared to accept things in that deal that I would not necessarily have advocated. "What I am not prepared to accept is that we don't leave the Common Fisheries Policy. In my view there's no point in leaving the EU if we don't actually do that.

"And that I would not accept a genuine threat to the integrity of the United Kingdom."But I am not going to be lectured on that issue by people who have never previously set out their concerns for the Union or actively pursued a policy of keeping it together."

Can he guarantee that the rights to access to UK fishing waters would not be traded off as part of a wider deal on trade with the EU, something demanded as a minimum by the Scottish Fishermen's Federation?

Mr Mundell replied: "I can guarantee that I would never accept that. My Scottish Conservatives MPs, colleagues, would never accept that and without our votes in the House of Commons I cannot envisage how such an arrangement could ever be concluded."

Mr Mundell replied: "I can guarantee that I would never accept that. My Scottish Conservatives MPs, colleagues, would never accept that and without out votes in the House of Commons I cannot envisage ho such an arrangement could ever be concluded."

It is worth pointing out that those who left the Cabinet, and their many supporters on the backbenches, will see things very differently.

Where the Scottish Secretary sees compromise and an acceptance of the "imperfect' they see betrayal and a sell-out - a strong words, but that is how they see it.

In their view Mr Mundell and others, up to and including the Prime Minister, are still closet Remainers, trying to thwart the will of the British people and who must be stopped.

Which all goes to show what strong passions Europe arouses inside the Tory party and I have not even mentioned the views of the opposition parties at Westminster, or the SNP government in Holyrood - that's for another blog perhaps.

Now it is worth saying that Mr Mundell is not a hater or hate-filled but he is clearly angry, as are those on the other side of the argument.

What is clear from the events of today - so far - is that tensions are running high in the Tory party. The managers, if they are even capable of managing any more, will have a lot more hatred to try to cope with in the weeks ahead.