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MI5 reports PM ensures closer Cabinet working

Summary:
Downing Street SW1  “Good morning, Humphrey.” “Good morning, Prime Minister.” “What’s that lorry doing outside?” “It’s delivering another chair for the Cabinet room. You will now have 23 round the table, Prime Minister, as well as those who sit around the walls.” “Golly, it’s getting a bit squashed.” “We refer to it as ‘working more closely’.  It also provides more opportunity for the streamlining of government you have long promoted.  There will be more heads to roll, Prime Minister.” “I wondered why Michael was looking a bit peevish when I saw him on my run this morning.” “I thought I should forewarn his staff last evening. The trouble seems to have originated because Mr Gove considered Lord Frost to have lost out to Monsieur Barnier in the Treaty negotiations and to be responsible for

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Downing Street 

SW1 

 

“Good morning, Humphrey.” 

“Good morning, Prime Minister.” 

“What’s that lorry doing outside?” 

“It’s delivering another chair for the Cabinet room. You will now have 23 round the table, Prime Minister, as well as those who sit around the walls.” 

“Golly, it’s getting a bit squashed.” 

“We refer to it as ‘working more closely’.  It also provides more opportunity for the streamlining of government you have long promoted.  There will be more heads to roll, Prime Minister.” 

“I wondered why Michael was looking a bit peevish when I saw him on my run this morning.” 

“I thought I should forewarn his staff last evening. The trouble seems to have originated because Mr Gove considered Lord Frost to have lost out to Monsieur Barnier in the Treaty negotiations and to be responsible for the mess that has followed. Given your promotion of our chief negotiator to the House or Lords, that was considered to verge on the disloyal.” 

“Well actually, Michael is probably right about that.  I remember saying that the Northern Ireland protocol would only affect goods intended for onward transit to the south. Goods staying in the north would just be waved through.  Now it turns out that everything is buggered up.” 

“Yes indeed, Prime Minister, but Lord Frost had to placate the Brussels view that the UK could not be trusted to distinguish one from the other.  Monsieur Barnier says they are only doing this to protect the Good Friday Agreement.” 

“That’s balderdash.  There’s nothing in the Good Friday Agreement about customs because Brexit was not even on the horizon when we agreed it.” 

“You are, as ever Prime Minister, absolutely right but we do not want to embarrass the EU by pointing out the obvious. In a negotiation, it is very important to maintain good relations.” 

“Be that as it may, if Ursula can break it, so can we. Bear in mind, Humphrey, forsan et haec olim meminisse iuvabit. I asked Michael to sort out the Northern Ireland Protocol.” 

“Well that’s my point.  Brussels likes Lord Frost but they do not, and I am sorry to say this, have much affection for Mr Gove.  They regard him as ‘difficult’.” 

“Are you telling me the same thing applies to all the other cock-ups? We cannot export fish to the EU but they can catch the same fish in our waters and send it to us with no documentation.  We cannot send our pigs to the EU so East Anglia is over-run with pigs they cannot afford to butcher.  Furthermore, China has banned EU pigs so they are now sending them all over to us with no let or hindrance. We gave the EU six months to adjust to British import paperwork with no reciprocal agreement – I could go on. In absentia lucis, Humphrey, as you well know, Tenebrae vincunt.” 

“Please don’t remind me, Prime Minister. You are simply underlining the reasons why Brussels has asked to deal with Lord Frost rather than Mr Gove. You have been urging us to improve our relations with our largest customer and this is an important step in that direction.” 

“Humphrey.  That’s all very well but being the errand boy to Brussels does not really justify a Cabinet seat.” 

“We have thought of that, Prime Minister. We will announce that Lord Frost will “also be in charge of dealing with post-Brexit trade problems as well as overseeing domestic reform to “maximise” the opportunities of having left the EU.’”

“Does that make him Secretary of State for Trade as well? And Foreign Secretary?” 

“I have had a word with her Permanent Secretary, and I gather Ms Truss will be delighted to have the benefit of Lord Frost’s wisdom and guidance. Mr Raab likewise.” 

“Just as well we have lots of other things for Michael to do.” 

“Yes indeed, Prime Minister. Our media announcement will say Mr Gove ‘will continue to be in charge of civil service reform and liaising with the devolved administrations. The prime minister has put him in charge of a committee to address NHS waiting times, backlogs in the courts and other effects of the pandemic on public services.’” 

“Humphrey, you must be joking. We already have Secretaries of State for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and they’re twiddling their thumbs because the devolved administrations of those nations are dedicated to keeping them in the dark.  This month, Edinburgh has come up with a plan for adult social care, which is more than we’ve been able to do, and they did not even ask for our advice.”

“Indeed.  And it will add 20% to the social care bill which, doubtless, they will expect us to finance.” 

“Well actually, Humphrey, they say social care provides ‘estimated financial value to Scotland’s economy of £3.4 billion’ or presumably £4 billion after the 20%.  In other words, it isn’t a cost at all but an income, so they won’t be asking us for a contribution.” 

“Sometimes I am glad I am not an economist. And before you ask, his Permanent Secretary assures me that Mr Hancock will appreciate Mr Gove’s chairmanship of the committee to address NHS waiting times.  He had been considering leaving that to Sir Simon Stevens but he does not want Sir Simon to take the credit when it should be all hands to the pump.” 

“I suppose you are going to tell me, Humphrey, that Mr Buckland, the Chancellor, Mr Kwarteng and all the other Cabinet ministers involved in this committee are equally pleased?” 

“’Equally’ is indeed the mot juste. You really have devised a brilliant plan.  The new Cabinet will not have 23 members at all – just you, Mr Gove and Lord Frost.  All the others will be redundant.  And almost all of their civil servants can go with them.  If I may say so, Prime Minister, you are a genius.” 

“Humphrey, you are too kind. Alea iacta est. Thank you.” 


The next day

“I’m sorry Prime Minister but the media have got the wrong end of the stick. They have the impression, extraordinary as it may seem, that Lord Frost lost all those points in the negotiations and Mr Gove is the hard man trying to correct them.”

“Extraordinary!”

“We must justify Lord Frost’s appointment to the Cabinet by making it clear that he is the hard man and Mr Gove is the softy.”

“Isn’t that ‘spin’. Humphrey?”

“No Prime Minister. It is realpolitik. And Lord Frost does indeed talk a hard game which adds a little verisimilitude.”

“Oh very well, Humphrey, but you’d better get Michael to back it up.”

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Tim Ambler
Tim Ambler (born 1937) is a British organizational theorist, author and academic on the field of Marketing effectiveness. Ambler featured on Marketing's list of the 100 most powerful figures in the industry. He is cited by the Chartered Institute of Marketing as one of the top 50 marketing experts in the world

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