The Brexit debate, Part 1, is over, and the inevitable will happen on the 31st January next when the UK formally leaves the European Union. The UK will probably seek a Canada Style deal with differences. The clever Mr Olly Robbins, the UK civil servant who negotiated Mrs May’s deal, has left the civil service and joined Goldman Sachs. But, we may ask, what will happen now? Will the Americans come up with the ‘golden parachute’ deal that Whitehall are looking for? How will this Conservative government’ deal with perilous and unstable constitutional clash with Scotland?
Brexit was originally a Tory problem, but David Cameron managed to turn it into a national issue by calling for a referendum. In the 2016 referendum campaign, Nigel Farage and Dominic Cummings outsmarted Cameron, and the ‘leave’ campaign won the referendum by a very narrow margin (52% to 48%). But many may ask; who is this mysterious Dominic Cummings who orchestrated the ‘Leave’ campaign?
We know that Cummings is currently a special advisor to Boris Johnson and that from the shadows he guided the Conservative Party to a historic victory in the last British general election with a majority of 80 seats.
But perhaps one of Cummings’ professors at Oxford sums him best for us, “He was something of a Robespierre – someone determined to bring down things that don’t work”. Chris Lockwood, a former No 10 advisor described him as “awkward, abrupt, arrogant, aggressive, and chronically late. He would change the time of a meeting, for example, and then wouldn’t turn up”. David Cameron, the former prime minister, described Cummings as a “career psychopath”. With this reputation, and with his reported erratic and aggressive behaviour towards more traditional minded colleagues, one wonders how he survives among the mandarins of Whitehall? The answer seems to be that he is both useful to Boris Johnson, and, more importantly, he is protected by an influential front bench minister, Michael Gove.
It is easy to understand his usefulness, especially after his recent successes, but why does Gove cover for him? Gove, according to Harry Lambert (in the New Statesman), considered himself to be in Cummings’s lasting debt. “I could never disavow Dominic,” Gove once told a friend, “I owe him everything.” While Cummings was working with Gove in the Department of Education, Patrick Wintour described the Gove-Cummings relationship, “Gove, polite to a fault, would often feign ignorance of his advisor’s methods, but knew full well the dark arts that Cummings deployed to get his master’s way”. In 2009, for example, Gore’s political career was in jeopardy when it became known that he had redecorated his house in London on parliamentary expenses. But Cummings rescued him with a survival strategy of communicating ‘a mea culpa’ and basically asking for forgiveness. It worked. A year later, in 2010, Gove was in trouble again, this time it was discovered he was publishing incorrect data from his department. Again Cunnings rescued him, but shortly afterwards Cameron had had enough and gave Cummings the push.
Dominic Cummings (b. 1971) was educated at Durham School and Exeter College, Oxford where he read ancient and modern history. He worked in various jobs after university and spent three years in Russia. Gove and Cummings first met when Michael Gove worked as a journalist on The Times newspaper, and they have remained close ever since.
Cummings’ first great success was as the director for the campaign to stop Britain joining the single currency, the “Business for Sterling” campaign. He spent a short time in 2002 working for Ian Duncan Smith (who was leader of the Conservative Party for a period) as his director of strategy, but he quit after just eight months, describing Duncan Smith as “incompetent” in an article he published in 2003. Cummings has been scathing also of both Mrs May, the former Prime Minister, and David Davis, her Brexit Minister, and described their performances as “a case study of grotesque uselessness”.
At present all is quiet in Whitehall, but come the 31st January and the UK finally departing from the EU, negotiations with both the US and EU will begin for new trade deals. For this delicate operation, Mr Johnson will reshuffle his cabinet to Dominic Cummings’ taste, ushering in a new form of cabinet government, where ministers, I predict, will be little more than mouthpieces for a powerful inner cabinet under the influence of Dominic Cummings. The political life of the UK will change after the 1st February, and Dominic Cummings radicalism will be the driving force.