'Toxic leaks create a stink about state of our politics'

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Brexit secretary David Davis, I’m sorry to report, finds himself at the centre of a furore which perfectly illustrates the sorry and shabby state of contemporary politics.

It centres around a letter sent by Lib Dem front-bencher Tom Brake to Mr Davis questioning why the Department for Exiting the European Union had held six meetings in 12 months with the little-known Legatum Institute think-tank – which says its mission is “to lift people from poverty to prosperity” – when many companies affected by Brexit can’t meet officials to discuss practicalities like jobs.

What perturbs Mr Brake is why the correspondence was immediately leaked to the political website Guido Fawkes – and not treated with respect by the Brexit department headed by Mr Davis, the Haltemprice and Howden MP, and one-time defender of Parliamentary rights.

“On Friday, I emailed the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union’s office at 12:08,” complained Mr Brake on a point of order to John Bercow, the Speaker of the Commons.
“The email was acknowledged by his office at 12:21. At 15:03 precisely, my letter was on the Guido Fawkes website.

“Mr Speaker... how I can ensure that the Minister’s office is just as prompt in giving me a reply to my inquiry as it appears to have been in giving that inquiry to the Guido Fawkes website?”

The Speaker was certainly unimpressed. “I strongly agree with the principle that Members of this House should be able to assume that their correspondence with Departments will be treated in confidence and with respect,” he said.

“It should not be lobbed in the direction of some website. That is a pretty extraordinary state of affairs and I would hope that the Secretary of State will at some point have something to say about the matter.”

Mr Davis did have something to say when he made a statement on Brexit on Tuesday. In response to a pithy question from Mr Brake, he mocked his opponent’s “wonderful selective choice of fantasies”.

He then concluded: “Let me tell him that that letter came to me via a journalist who already had full knowledge of its entire contents. I am afraid that he has no apologies coming from me on that either.”

So either Mr Davis’s staff are leaking correspondence or the Lib Dems are creating unnecessary mischief because they don’t respect the country’s decision to vote to leave the European Union.

For all I know, the purported meetings with the Legatum Institute might have been valid, but it is slightly mysterious when Mr Davis’s department is refusing to confirm or deny the existence of any analysis about the economic impact of Brexit on Yorkshire because it believes (wrongly) that it is not in the public interest to do so.

To be honest, I don’t care who leaked the letter. Like everyone else, I’ve just had enough of the point-scoring. Grow up, because it will be Britain that suffers if politics becomes so tribal and toxic that MPs on all sides of the House of Commons can’t show each other a bit of respect and civility and share ideas in their daily correspondence.

Talking of Brexit, reported rifts in the Cabinet were played down by Transport Secretary Chris Grayling who said: “The Sunday papers add two and two together and make 16.” It doesn’t hold water.

During more turbulent periods in Tony Blair’s government, John Prescott would take to the airwaves and describe such reports as “media froth”. Yet, judging by the memoirs of both men, the accounts at the time were unerringly accurate.

And I, for one, would like to know which members of the current Cabinet are keeping a diary for revenge purposes at a later date – my money is on the aforementioned Brexit Secretary David Davis.

Leeds Council chief executive Tom Riordan might be Yorkshireman of the Year (well done!), but his transport team – who mucked up the city’s Trolleybus scheme so spectacularly – is as infuriating as ever.

Motorists heading into Leeds this week were greeted with this sign: “Water Lane closed due to wind baffles installation.” Though local residents will not need reminding about the need for remedial measures near the Bridgewater Place high-rise block, the many visitors to the city will wonder what it is all about.

With another frustrating month on the roads when Leeds Council’s transport team was too slow to respond to delays in the city, I just hope they’re not integral to transport policy-making if a Yorkshire devolution deal is agreed – they don’t have the confidence of commuters.

Fair play to theatre impresario Andrew Lloyd Webber for finally acknowledging criticism from this columnist, and others, by resigning his Tory peerage and right to sit in the House of Lords this week.

He voted just 42 times in two decades and only made a handful of speeches – evidently he wasn’t aware that there was more to being a member of the House of Lords than milking the title.

Though he has pointed out that he never claimed expenses, the passage of Parliamentary legislation should not be left at the mercy of part-time hobby peers.

I’m not sure Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt can survive much longer. After responding to Labour by saying “We have 30,000 more professionals working in mental health than when my Government came into office”, he had to issue a humiliating letter of apology to the Commons and say there are “30,000 more professionals working in the NHS than when my Government came into office”.

A fairly big – and elementary – mistake that does not inspire confidence.


tom.richmond@ypn.co.uk