Leading Brexiteer Steve Baker MP has declined to reprise his old junior minister’s job in Boris Johnson’s government, signalling that Tory Leavers will not follow the new prime minister blindly.
Baker, who resigned from the Department for Exiting the European Union (DExEU) along with inaugural secretary of state David Davis after Theresa May unveiled her Chequers plan for a so-called “Soft Brexit” — well before Johnson himself decided to walk away from her administration — said he could not “repeat my experience of powerlessness as a junior [DExEU] minister” with the real Brexit work being done in the Cabinet Office which, in effect, serves the Prime Minister.
“I have total confidence in [Boris Johnson] to take us out of the EU by 31 Oct,” he continued — but added darkly: “Disaster awaits otherwise.”
With regret, I have turned down a ministerial job.
I have total confidence in @BorisJohnson to take us out of the EU by 31 Oct.
Disaster awaits otherwise.
— Steve Baker MP (@SteveBakerHW) July 25, 2019
Baker, a senior member of the European Research Group (ERG) of Brexit-supporting Tory MPs, has earned a somewhat tongue-in-cheek reputation as the party’s “Brexit hardman” for his robust committment to his cause, being one of the few leading Brexiteers to vote against Theresa May’s “deal” all three times she put it to Parliament — unlike Boris Johnson and the likes of Jacob Rees-Mogg, who backed it reluctantly on the third attempt for fear they would get no Brexit at all without it.
He was also more forthright than other ministers who resigned over Theresa May’s handing of Brexit about the way she undermined Brexiteers behind the scenes, with his reference to his “experience of powerlessness” as a junior Brexit minister at DExEU being a callback to the way she put her Cheuqers plan together behind the department’s back with the connivance of senior bureucrats and then sprung it on Cabinet.
“An establishment elite who never accepted the fundamental right of the public to choose democratically their institutions, are working towards overturning them,” he said at the time, dismissing DExEU as a “Potemkin structure”.
Later he went even further, saying the way Mrs May had “worked around [DExEU] ministers” amounted to an abuse of the constitution.
Here’s another Eurosceptic MP on Steve Baker:
‘This is typical of the way the ERG has been treated. Anybody who is in the ERG has been binned off. Steve has been treated terribly’
— Steven Swinford (@Steven_Swinford) July 26, 2019
The fact that Baker was seemingly offered nothing but his old, junior position at a DExEU now even less relevant to Brexit than it was in 2018, under a Secretary of State appointed after David Davis and successor Dominic Raab had resigned purely in order to defend Mrs May’s “deal”, is not merely bad news for Baker himself, but for the ERG as a whole.
“This is typical of the way the ERG has been treated. Anybody who is in the ERG has been binned off. Steve has been treated terribly,” one eurosceptic MP told Steven Swinford, deputy political editor at The Times.
“Without [Baker] we would already have signed withdrawal agreement, we would be trapped in backstop forever and May would still be PM. Some people clearly have short memories,” said another.
It may be that Johnson, who does not enjoy an outright majority in the House of Commons, has chosen to neglect committed Brexiteers like Baker because he believes he can count on their votes no matter what, while anti-Brexiteers he has appointed to Cabinet like Amber Rudd and his own brother Jo Johnson — who appeared on stage with Gary Lineker backing a so-called “people’s vote” (second referendum) a matter of weeks ago — need to be kept in Government to stop them from joining Dominic Grieve and other Remain Tories who have been working to stop Brexit.
First Steve Baker turns down a job, now Mark Francois warns Boris Johnson that even removing the backstop won’t be enough to win the ERG’s support for a Brexit deal. https://t.co/lbJ7DNUS18
— Kevin Schofield (@PolhomeEditor) July 26, 2019