Political editor WALTER CRONXITE reports on claims that the Prime Minister is getting gaffe-prone Gav to do her dirty work for her
For the second time in a few months, fingers within Conservative High Command are pointing at Gavin Barwell as the likely source of a Downing Street leak intended to damage the reputation of a cabinet minister.
This time, Barwell, who got the job as the Prime Minister’s chief of staff after losing his Croydon Central parliamentary seat last June, is accused of trying to “kneecap” Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, over his plans for the land border between the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland after Brexit.
To be fair, no one else really needs to make Johnson look like a complete cock, when this Bullingdon Club buffoon is very capable of doing that job himself, as he did last week when he compared the Northern Ireland border to the borough boundary between Camden and Islington.
That said, it seems that Barwell is swiftly amassing a large stock of ill-will towards himself within his own Conservative Party, and particularly from Brexiteers.
Previously, Barwell was involved in the “Merlot Memo”, when he was accused of briefing against Johnson and environment secretary and all-round sleazeball Michael Gove.
This time around, Barwell has been accused of leaking a letter the foreign secretary had written to the PM about the Irish border. Barwell has denied passing the document to Sky News.
Johnson appeared to say in the letter that there may need to be a “hard border” between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, a move that contradicts the Prime Minister’s policy, and which could jeopardise the fragile peace brokered under the Good Friday Agreement nearly 20 years ago.
Johnson’s letter also said that “even if a hard border is reintroduced” in Ireland, it would not significantly affect trade.
The wording contradicted an assertion by Johnson in November that returning to a hard border was “unthinkable” and would be “economic and political madness”.
The leak provoked an angry stand-off between the Foreign Office and Downing Street, which banned Johnson from releasing the full text of the letter.
One of Johnson’s friends accused Barwell of being responsible for the leak. “This looks like an attempt to launch a pre-emptive kneecapping of Boris,” the friend said. “I suspect the leak inquiry won’t have to look any further than the PM’s outer office.”
Meanwhile a senior official in another department pointed out to the Sunday Times: “There are only a very select few people who had access to the letter.”
Those Tories at Westminster who are briefing against Barwell suggest that he is keen to undermine the Brexit process because he blames the referendum outcome for his losing his Croydon Central seat, and in particular the part Johnson played in deceiving the British public in 2016.
Officially, the cabinet is completely united and it is all sweetness and light in the government. A spokesman for Johnson was quoted by the newspaper as saying: “This is a yawnerama – a nonsense claim from an anonymous quote about a half baked and misleading leak that has been totally superseded by the Prime Minister’s excellent speech on Friday. We all now have a song to sing on Brexit – and we are going to be in unison.
“We are coming out of the customs union and single market and as Theresa May has spelt out we can stay economically and politically close to our friends and partners in Europe while forging an exciting new future for Britain – controlling our own laws and doing our own free trade deals.
“And the PM was absolutely right to be optimistic about the solutions to the issues raised by borders in Ireland and elsewhere. It’s time to be positive folks.”
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