Open mutiny from our wet-as-celery Business bloke: QUENTIN LETTS on yesterday in Parliament
Business Secretary Greg Clark at Downing Street
Business Secretary Greg Clark glided into the Commons yesterday to talk about French-owned aeroplane manufacturer Airbus and its huffy attitude to Brexit.
Rarely has a minister so eagerly rubbished Cabinet colleagues.
He was answering a question about Airbus’s threats to move British manufacturing operations – possibly to China – as a result of Brexit.
Was Airbus wrong? Nooo, said Mr Clark in that voice as deep and butyraceous as Clifford the Dragon from the old Listerine adverts.
Airbus was a marvellous company. He gushed about how much it paid its staff. He hoped we would be able to ‘continue to enjoy that prosperity’.
Airbus? High tech, fabulous employer, none better, etc, etc. And its executives were ‘entitled to be listened to with respect’.
Hang on. Only on Sunday, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt had told Airbus to stop whingeing and to get back in its box.
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But here was Mr Hunt’s Cabinet colleague Mr Clark taking the opposite view.
‘We’re talking about the reality of the lives of many thousands of people,’ added Mr Clark, using the sort of language that Airbus itself employed when it was making its demands for Britain not to leave the EU in full.
Labour MPs could hardly believe what they were hearing. They cheered Mr Clark. Some laughed.
Here was open mutiny against Cabinet colleagues such as Mr Hunt, David Davis, Liam Fox and Boris Johnson.
Was he speaking with the authority of Theresa May? It is a mark of the Prime Minister’s translucence on Brexit that one simply could not say.
‘Here was open mutiny against Cabinet colleagues such as Mr Hunt, David Davis, Liam Fox (pictured) and Boris Johnson’
Airbus’s Europhile position became clear last week on the day after Mr Clark had a meeting with the firm.
Some Brexiteers think wet-as-celery Mr Clark put the Continentals up to their stunt.
On yesterday’s showing, I suspect he may indeed have done so – but they possibly reined in their remarks a little, not wishing to be quite as crazily pro-Brussels as the British business minister!
Mr Clark, from the start, boomed forth in the voice of a man confident of his position. Sir Desmond Swayne (Con, New Forest W) pointed out that under World Trade rules, aeroplane manufacture did not attract export taxes. Ergo, why the kerfuffle?
Mr Clark could have said, “Good point, Sir Desmond, and that is why this bleating from Airbus should simply be filed under L for lobbying”.
Instead he found a way of disagreeing with Brexiteer Sir Desmond.
Jack Lopresti (Con, Filton & Bradley Stoke), who as an MP with local Airbus interests possibly has the measure of this company, said he did not think ‘for one minute’ that Airbus would carry out its ‘ridiculous threats’.
Blairite MPs, who may quietly be rather keen for our economy to fail, fanned their faces in horror.
Mr Lopresti went on to ask how many of the billions of pounds of public subsidies Airbus had pocketed from the British taxpayer over the years would need to be paid back if it went ahead with its hot talk of a British shutdown.
Again, Mr Clark could have defended our national interest by saying ‘spot on, mate!’ Instead he said he disagreed with Mr Lopresti and he felt that public subsidies of Airbus had been a wonderful thing.
With ministers such as this, Brussels negotiators might as well take July off and scoot down to the Med’.
Our very own Business bloke is negotiating against us.
On the front bench alongside him sat members of the Clark party, if we can call them that: such titans of our body politic as Robert Buckland, Remainerish solicitor-general, and Margot James, culture minister and once an In campaigner.
Mind you, Brexit minister Steve Baker was there, too. He looked dead unimpressed with Clark’s performance.
Broxtowe’s Anna Soubry (Con, but for how much longer?) was in attendance.
When Mr Lopresti made his snortingly pro-Brexit point, Miss Soubry could not resist heckling him, hurling her eyeballs heavenwards as if she thought him a loon.
She really does not help herself, that one.
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