TYPICALLY, THE Government did itself no favours when it mishandled an announcement over the Brexit negotiations and how Theresa May had taken personal charge of the talks with the EU.
This should always have been the case. Ministers take their lead from the Prime Minister. And to allow it to be portrayed as a snub to Dominic Raab, the new Brexit Secretary, was unhelpful and showed the extent to which Downing Street has lost control of events.
After all, the consequences of these talks are so momentous that it requires an unprecedented effort by the whole Government, which is why Mr Raab was meeting the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier for the second time in quick succession while Mrs May addressed farmers at the Royal Welsh Show.
There will be times, as John Major and Tony Blair experienced over the Northern Ireland peace process, when the issues at stake are so crucial that the Prime Minister is the only person with the authority to take the necessary decision, and Brexit falls into this category.
What the Government should have said is this: Mrs May will focus almost exclusively for the foreseeable future on Brexit alongside Mr Raab who, as part of his duties, will make sure every Whitehall department is ready for every eventuality – including the prospect of Britain leaving the EU with no deal.
In the meantime, David Lidington, the Prime Minister’s de facto deputy, will, in these unique circumstances, take charge of the co-ordination of domestic policy to ensure that critical decisions on the future of key services are actually taken – many senior politicians, and leaders, have complained in recent weeks about the extent to which Whitehall has ground to a halt due to Brexit.
This is intended to be constructive advice with no hidden agenda or ulterior motive. What it is, however, is recognition that the Government has only one chance to get Brexit right – and that this now needs to be Mrs May’s full focus.