Liam fox

Babies with Down’s syndrome have a right to be born

Many of us remember at least one morning in our childhoods when fate threw us some unexpected twist and we knew instantly that life would never be the same. Mine came in July 1991, two months shy of my fifth birthday. I had just received the news from my aunt that my mum had gone into labour overnight; my siblings and I had a new sister. We were gleefully baking biscuits that morning when we heard my father’s car on the drive returning from the hospital. But someone almost unrecognisable walked into the kitchen; shell-shocked, with a ghostly pallor. Something was wrong. We cannot legislate for the total eradication of

Tory big beasts battle for Tugendhat’s job

The great ministerial merry go round continues at pace. Liz Truss’s triumph in the leadership race has seen a number of ambitious MPs enter government for the first time; among them is Tom Tugendhat, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee. His new frontbench role as security minister means he has to surrender his post as head of the backbench committee, triggering something of a bun fight over who gets to replace him. Select committee chairmanships are highly valued prizes, bestowing the incumbent with prestige, profile and an extra £15,000 salary bonus. And it’s no surprise then that two of the biggest beasts in the backbench Tory jungle are set

We’ll never know whether Huawei is still listening

This column has been banging on about the peculiar nature of Huawei, the Chinese telecoms giant, ever since its expanded presence in the UK won what I described as ‘grateful applause from David Cameron’ back in 2012. I have deployed everything from serious intelligence sources to laborious knock-knock jokes (‘Huawei who?’ ‘Who are we kidding, prime minister? We don’t need to knock on your front door when we’ve already got a backdoor device in the Downing Street switchboard’) to make my point that the proliferation of Huawei kit in UK telecoms networks represented an obvious but unquantifiable security risk. Which means I can’t disagree with the government’s belated decision to

Liam Fox to be UK’s nomination for WTO Director-General

The UK will nominate Liam Fox to be director-general of the World Trade Organisation. I understand that the decision to nominate the former trade secretary, who has been lobbying heavily for the job, was made last night. There were those in Whitehall who were opposed to nominating Fox. They argued that it was too soon after the UK had become an independent member of the WTO to put forward a candidate and that it would be better to concentrate on some more junior positions that the UK would have a better chance of getting. Boris Johnson, however, wasn’t persuaded by these arguments. He wants to use the UK’s G7 presidency next

Diary – 1 August 2019

I begin the week in Bamako, Mali, with a crackly telephone call to Commodore Dean Bassett, UK Maritime Component Commander in the Gulf. He informs me that HMS Montrose and the Maritime Trade Operation has seen 30 ships safely through the Strait of Hormuz. These ships had been given 24 hours’ notice for their transit. Another, Stena Impero, had not made it through. Montrose was given only 60 minutes notice for her transit. Despite increasing to flank speed, she was 20 minutes too late and steamed into the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. The anger and disappointment is evident in the Commodore’s voice as he professionally delivers his report. I thank him

Liam Fox falls foul of the climate change cult

A question has come to me from a test paper in the A-level for 21st century ethics. Read the following statement and explain what is wrong with it: ‘It’s important that we take climate issues seriously. Whether or not individuals accept the current scientific consensus on the causes of climate change, it is sensible for everyone to use finite resources in a responsible way.’ The correct answer, it turns out, is that the statement allows for the possibility that failing to accept the scientific consensus on climate change is somehow a legitimate position for an individual to hold, when of course it is not. The person making the statement should

Former civil servant’s Remain lobbying

Liam Fox is set to take to the stage this afternoon to give a speech on the opportunities of free trade as part of the government’s roadmap to Brexit. Only the International Trade Secretary has already hit a bump in the road. The former permanent secretary at his department, Martin Donnelly, has launched a broadside attack on the government’s plans. He has likened leaving the EU single market and customs union to ‘rejecting a three-course meal now in favour of the promise of a packet of crisps later’. Putting aside why Donnelly ever thought it would be a good idea to work in a department dedicated to free trade if he was

Liam Fox’s Conservative conference speech, full text

OK. It’s time for some optimism. It doesn’t seem like a year since we last met together in Birmingham. When we did so, my Department had been in existence for little over two months. We had the challenge, but more importantly the wonderful opportunity, to build a new department designed for the trade challenges of the 21st century. It has been a huge honour to be at the centre of such a historic project and to work alongside some of the most talented and energetic people in our country. In a short time, we have achieved so much. We have attracted the brightest and best talent from across Whitehall, the private

David Davis is heading for a tragic failure of his own making

Stephen Bush of the New Statesman asked a good question the other day. Why do people who hate what Boris Johnson and Liam Fox are doing to Britain go easy on David Davis? He’s right to be perplexed. It turns out all those trade deals the leave campaign promised can’t be done for years. Liam Fox has nothing to do except be a public nuisance, which now I come to think of it is the only post he’s qualified to fill. Johnson meanwhile is an embarrassment, even to an administration which seems beyond shame, and Theresa May does her best to keep him locked in an FCO cellar. Davis, on the

Cabinet ministers deserve to be roasted for giving this chicken story legs

Don’t Liam Fox and Michael Gove know how to use Skype? Just as the Cabinet finally start to reach agreement on the nuts and bolts of the UK’s Brexit negotiating position, a row has broken out across the Atlantic about chlorinated chicken. Much to Fox’s frustration, his trip to Washington to begin US/UK trade talks has been dominated by chicken. After accusing the British press of being ‘obsessed’ by the issue of chlorinated chicken being a part of a trade deal, Fox has attempted to dampen down speculation on the issue. Speaking to Newsnight yesterday from Washington, Fox acknowledged farming concerns – but declined to rule out allowing chlorine-washed chicken into the

Cabinet agreement on Brexit doesn’t equal Tory harmony

What’s the most significant thing that Liam Fox has said today, as he begins talks with the US on a post-Brexit trade deal? Is it that he thinks the British media has an ‘obsession’ with chlorine-washed chicken (Ross takes a non-obsessive look at this here) or that he has admitted that it might be ‘optimistic’ to expect a trade deal between the UK and the EU by March 2019? It is true that the International Trade Secretary has often been the most optimistic about how hard Brexit will be (unkind people might suggest that this is because he hasn’t actually had to do much of the nitty gritty stuff since

Sunday shows round-up: Jeremy Cobyn tries to explain away his student debt troubles

Jeremy Corbyn – I did not make a commitment to write off student debt This morning Jeremy Corbyn became the last interviewee on the Andrew Marr Show  before the party conference season begins in September. With a potential general election on the cards at any time, there was much to discuss. In particular, Marr chose to delve a little deeper into Corbyn’s plans for alleviating student debt after the Labour leader declared he planned to ‘deal with it’ shortly before Britain went to the polls in June: Marr: A lot of people in this country are burdened by high levels of debt because of the student loans they’ve had to

Liam Fox’s ungentlemanly conduct

Ever since the 56 SNP MPs descended on Westminster following the 2015 general election, they have been criticised for failing to master Westminster etiquette — from clapping in the Chamber to taking shortcuts through the Chancellor’s office. However, is it really the Conservative MPs that are the ones in need of a lesson in good manners? Mr S only asks after Lord Bell — the Tory grandee — let slip, at his Glass Half Full party, what Liam Fox told him Nicola Sturgeon’s nickname was when she was a student at the University of Glasgow. The Evening Standard reports that Bell revealed that the International Trade secretary said they called the First Minister ‘seaweed’. The reason?

How many deals will the Department for International Trade have signed by 2020?

Liam Fox has (for a change) unfairly become the subject of much mockery this week, over his department’s plans for ‘Empire 2.0’. The name relates to the International Trade Secretary’s plot to boost trade links with African Commonwealth nations by promising developing nations that their trading relationships with the UK will not get worse after Brexit. Contrary to many online jokes, the name was not concocted by an egocentric International Trade Secretary, but instead Whitehall officials who think it is misguided to place too much importance on trade with the Commonwealth, compared with the EU. It comes as the head of the Commonwealth secretariat has called for Britain to ‘go an awful lot faster’ in

Liam Fox comes to the defence of his ‘headless chickens’

Of all the departments focussing on Brexit, it’s Liam Fox’s department that most regularly bears the brunt of unwanted publicity — whether it’s the Secretary for International Trade’s claim that UK businesses are lazy or reports of staffing issues and niche reading lists. Today in an appearance at the International Trade Select Committee, Fox tried to set the record straight. He began by requesting an apology from Gus O’Donnell, the former Cabinet secretary, who has said setting up the new department was a mistake. Given that O’Donnell wasn’t at the hearing, he wasn’t able to oblige. But Fox wasn’t done there. He accused the media of being ‘ill-informed’ about the work his department does, and

When Liam Fox gave up his hand

As No.10 reels from Ivan Rogers’ resignation letter in which he accuses Theresa May’s government of ‘muddled thinking’, Liam Fox has found himself in the firing line. Britain’s departing ambassador to the EU has taken aim at the International Trade secretary — declaring that ‘free trade does not just happen’. Alas should Fox have some tense and difficult negotiations ahead over Brexit, there is reason to believe he may not be the man best placed for a high stakes poker game. Mr S couldn’t help but recall an anecdote courtesy of Theo Bertram — former adviser to Blair and Brown — of working in a corridor across from Fox in

Wanted: Good press for Liam Fox

Of all the government departments, it’s the Department for International Trade that manages to find itself in the firing line the most often. Whether it’s a turf war between the department and the rest of Whitehall or reports of Liam Fox instructing civil servants to read his book, it’s safe to say the department has not had the easiest ride. So, Mr S was intrigued to see that they are now recruiting for a ‘Head of Media’. The lucky candidate will also need to provide personal press advice to Fox — presumably this will involve telling him not to drink copious amounts of champagne on the terrace and making sure he surrounds

Liam Fox throws the book at civil servants

Although Theresa May is adamant that she will trigger Article 50 come what March, today’s Times splash suggests otherwise. A ‘leaked’ memo from Deloitte to the paper claims that the government is behind schedule with Brexit preparations and is heavily short-staffed — requiring another 30,000 civil servants in order to get the job done. So, what are the current batch of civil servants getting up to? Well, over in the Department for International Trade, Mr S understands that reading is high on the agenda. Word reaches Steerpike that Liam Fox has instructed his civil servants to read Rising Tides: Facing the Challenges of a New Era — a book that aims to explain ‘how to

Norway never said ‘nei’ to Liam Fox

Being half-Norwegian, I can rarely find anyone in Westminster to discuss the Norwegian papers with. But Monday’s front page of the Norwegian business paper Dagens Naeringsliv has been the talk of the town. Why, because its main headline trumpeted Norway said no’ (in Norwegian, of course). The other lines clarified the story – ‘Brits wanted to collaborate on a new EU deal’, but Norway said no… ‘They didn’t get Norwegian help on Brexit’. What a dream story for those who are still in mourning over June’s referendum. It was quickly picked up by the Guardian, among others.   As the article had it, Liam Fox had been keen to establish a task

Katy Balls

The three Europhiles take on the three Brexiteers

Today it was a case of the ghosts of governments past as George Osborne, Michael Heseltine and Vince Cable were hauled before the Commons Business Committee to discuss the UK’s industrial strategy. What followed was a bit of a love-in as Heseltine commended Osborne for his time in the Cabinet – praising Cameron’s government for working on industrial strategy ‘on a bigger scale than any previous government’. Less popular during the session were the Brexit bunch. Heseltine mocked May’s three Brexiteers – Liam Fox, Boris Johnson and David Davis. When asked by Richard Fuller how important it was for Britain to secure free trade agreements, he jokingly replied that he