In our second extract from Alan Duncan’s riotously candid diaries, he continues to support the Prime Minister Theresa May — while criticising her in private. Meanwhile, he is finding the antics of his boss Boris Johnson — now Foreign Secretary — increasingly jaw-dropping…
Monday, September 25, 2017
Interesting drink with a banker who was at Eton with Boris. He was no fan, and says Boris took his economics revision notes without permission and then never gave them back.
Tuesday, September 26
The Foreign Office has lost its way. It is an organisation living on its past, one without leadership, initiative or confidence. [Foreign secretary] Boris adds nothing to it. Amid a long succession of characterful foreign secretaries, he is Harold Wilson’s George Brown without the alcohol.
Sunday, October 1
Flight to Chicago, much enhanced by a very good-looking Northern steward called Benjamin.
Thursday, November 2
In quite the most extraordinary Cabinet appointment I can think of, Gavin Williamson has been appointed Defence Secretary. It is absolutely absurd. He seems to have pushed himself forward for this undeserved promotion. It is a brazenly self-serving manoeuvre that will further embed the view of him as a sly schemer, which he undoubtedly is.
He is also ludicrously unqualified for the heavyweight job of Defence Secretary, having never run anything. His experience amounts to having been a fireplace salesman, then bag-carrier for two PMs, then Chief Whip for a year. What on earth was the PM thinking?
If I were more precious, I’d be pretty damned annoyed that I didn’t get it myself. But, as ever, scheming triumphs over loyalty and suitability.
In the second extract from Alan Duncan’s riotously candid diaries, the former Foreign Office minister (pictured posing for a photograph in Westminster) lays in on Prime Minister Theresa May for her ‘absurd’ appointment of Gavin Williamson as Defence Secretary
Thursday, November 9
It feels as though the Government is in its death throes. We limp on, we limp to win. All the overambitious youngsters are jockeying for advancement, a process which so undermines the Government there will be no Government for them to be promoted in. We are doomed, all because of wretched Brexit.
Saturday, December 16
In Bucharest with HRH the Prince of Wales for the funeral of King Michael of Romania. Unusually for a funeral, the entire crowd, on seeing the Prince [of Wales], cheered and burst into applause. He is an absolute rock-star hero in Romania. We were all left with the impression that some of them would like him to be their King.
Tuesday, January 8, 2018
Annoyingly [WikiLeaks founder, Julian] Assange’s forcible exit from the Ecuadorian embassy [where he’d sought asylum] has been delayed. Ecuador’s government lawyers are now saying that it requires a Presidential decree.
Friday, January 19
Boris says we should build a bridge across the Channel, because the tunnel is at full capacity. Well that should all be quick and easy. Job done!
Tuesday, January 23
Boris, both annoyingly and disgracefully, refuses to support Palestine attending the UN Conference on Disarmament as an observer. Why the hell not?
Friday, January 26
My 27th Melton [constituency] Ladies’ lunch. Usual cheerful gathering of 80-year-olds.
‘In quite the most extraordinary Cabinet appointment I can think of, Gavin Williamson has been appointed Defence Secretary. It is absolutely absurd. He seems to have pushed himself forward for this undeserved promotion’
Saturday, January 27
It would seem that Gavin Williamson has seriously overplayed his hand. In his rush to ascend the greasy pole, he manoeuvred to get Michael Fallon’s job at Defence, only now to be accused of having been sacked from his job as a fireplace salesman ten years ago for having an affair with an employee.
Sunday, January 28
Gavin W is getting off lightly. He is under the cosh, but he will survive because all the focus is on the declining authority of Theresa May. The Government is in intensive care and might drift haplessly to its end within months.
Sunday, February 4
So many people now think they should take over from Theresa. Dominic Raab is at it again on Sky. Boris feigns no interest in standing, and then texts back anybody who might intimate that they support him. Meanwhile he plots relentlessly with the scheming Gove, who he should never trust again.
Monday, February 5
Dinner with [security minister] Ben Wallace. He says rumours about Boris resigning are the concoction of Gavin Williamson, who is briefing manically in order to tarnish Boris and knock out all others who might be leader. The man is crazed.
Tuesday, February 6
Nothing illustrates the weakness of the Prime Minister more than the visual awkwardness with which she joined [a] photo op [for the 100th anniversary of the Suffragettes]. Gangly, looking around as if lost, no poise or presence. Charisma bypass. No personality. She is the only credible game in town, but there’s not much there, and I despair.
‘Boris says we should build a bridge across the Channel, because the tunnel is at full capacity. Well that should all be quick and easy. Job done!’
Wednesday, February 14
Boris has made his much-heralded Brexit speech. Hot air with zero detail.
Monday, February 26
Lunch at White’s with U.S. Ambassador Woody Johnson. Nice and perky, but his comments dart around like a butterfly. It is impossible to discuss any issue in depth.
Reception hosted by the PM at Number 10 for Balkans leaders. I wheel them in front of the PM, who requires a confident introduction if she is to say anything. Otherwise she just stands there dumbstruck.
Wednesday, February 28
A letter from Boris to Number 10, or at least its first page, has leaked. I wonder who did that? And now, surprise surprise, in order to clarify its misinterpretation by the media, Boris has said he will publish the full text of the letter. Number 10 are furious. Once again, he is undermining the Government and playing no end of silly games.
Tuesday, March 6
Something odd is going on in Salisbury. A Russian former intelligence officer, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter Yulia have been found slumped on a park bench there, seemingly poisoned.
Monday, March 12
The Government laboratory at Porton Down has confirmed beyond doubt that the poison used in Salisbury was a banned military-grade [Russian] nerve agent called Novichok. We have summoned Russian Ambassador Alexander Yakovenko to the FCO.
Whatever anyone might ever think about Boris on so many things, on this occasion he was brilliant. He had been given a clear script, and he stuck to it faithfully.
Yakovenko and his deputy came in, all jaunty and smiling as if nothing had happened. Boris and I were suitably severe. We all remained standing, on facing sides of the large office table.
He raised his tone and, with fabulous indignation verging on anger, told [Yakovenko] in no uncertain terms how unacceptable it was to violate our security, try to murder someone on British soil, breach a highly important international convention, etc.
It was a deliciously delivered dressing-down, in response to which the dumb-struck Yakovenko couldn’t say anything, and just left.
Well done, Boris! Perhaps it worked so well because he was not larking about and playing to the gallery — he spoke from the heart and meant what he said.
Watch TV [later], and learn more about the Salisbury incident from Newsnight than I’ve ever been told in the FCO in supposed top secrecy.
‘Priti Horrendous [Patel, International Development Secretary] is in a deep mess. It turns out that she went to Israel on what she called a holiday and met some Israeli ministers without telling the embassy’
Thursday, March 15
To Number 10 for a long-awaited face-to-face meeting with the PM. She is so remote and disconnected from people. I don’t know who she talks to or confides in. Certainly not me, which is so silly.
I told her emphatically when DC resigned as PM that she must stand; I’ve known her (albeit with no particular friendship) for 40 years; I waded enthusiastically into her leadership campaign; I’m holding the line in the FCO; and am able to help shore up her support among older colleagues.
We covered a lot of ground [on various issues]. She smiled sweetly and took it all in, but she is just so inexpressive you just don’t know if it was worth the bother.
PRITI HORRENDOUS… AND ‘MORALLY CORRUPT’
Monday, November 6, 2017
Priti Horrendous [Patel, International Development Secretary] is in a deep mess. It turns out that she went to Israel on what she called a holiday and met some Israeli ministers without telling the embassy.
When first asked about it, she said she had told the FCO — by speaking to Boris — and that it was only a couple of meetings. It is now clear that she lied. She had not told Boris, and in fact had a whole series of meetings, including with PM Netanyahu.
All but one of them were also attended by Lord Polak, who for three decades has been the mainstay of the Conservative Friends of Israel.
Thus she spent a week there on a programme put together by Polak, without telling the FCO or even her own Department, attending meetings at the highest level, accompanied by the principal pro-Israel donor lobbyist in the UK.
She has been forced to publish a statement. It lists a raft of meetings, and then says that as a result she commissioned policy work in DfID [Department for International Development] about working with the Israeli Army in Palestine!
So by her own admission, she has directly linked undeclared meetings to subsequent policy-making. She could not be more compromised.
Tuesday, November 7
Quite the most extraordinary day. Our PM [Theresa May] did not know when she saw Netanyahu last week that Priti Outrageous had seen him in Tel Aviv; and she did not know until this morning that Patel had recommended DfID pay for the Israeli Defence Forces to do ‘humanitarian’ work in the Golan Heights (which is not Israeli), against long-standing DfID policy.
In my view, Priti Patel’s comments are deceitful, morally corrupt and improper. She has engaged offline with a foreign government over issues of policy. It is contemptible. She is quite despicable.
Then things get even hotter. Her personal statement was billed as the full record of all the people she saw in Israel, yet she failed to include in her list of meetings the people she subsequently saw in London when she was back.
So she lied — to the public and also to the PM. They are all saying she will be sacked tomorrow, but she is somewhere in Africa.
Wednesday, November 8
PP is such a brassy monster that on return she has clearly threatened the PM both with a challenge to her version of events — ‘Yes, PM, you did know’ — and with a threat about Brexit — ‘If you mess me around, I’ll cause you difficulty.’
As a result, she is demanding that she be allowed to resign rather than be dismissed. She should be sacked.
Finally she is dismissed, but it will be called a resignation. Nothing in the exchange of letters [with the PM] even mentions Israel and the deep impropriety of her actions, merely an apology about her lack of transparency.
The Conservative Party and the PM remain in total denial, and once again brush it under the carpet. It reeks; it stinks; it festers; it moulders — all rotten to the core.
This [is] exceptional pro-Israel infiltration into the very centre of our public life. What is the point of having a guardian of ethics in Whitehall when they fail to put their foot down on this wickedness?
Thursday, November 9
Boris is in Washington from where he texts me to say they (whoever ‘they’ are) are blaming me for briefing against Patel.
I reply she did a pretty comprehensive job of destroying herself without the need for others to assist. I said she is lucky not to be in the Tower of London.
Wednesday, April 18
The Government, and the Home Office in particular, are under massive pressure for supposedly having betrayed the ‘Windrush Generation’. The first Caribbean immigrants arrived on a ship called the Empire Windrush. But over the last 50 years, they have never been issued with formal documents of residence. Some are now being sent ‘home’. It is quite staggering incompetence on the part of all governments over five decades.
Sunday, April 22
Dinner with [Tory MP] Ed Argar. Ed says [home secretary] Amber Rudd has inherited the problem, and is being made to take the rap for an independent agency taking decisions about deportations. She is not allowed to instruct the agency what to do, and then gets blamed for their crap decisions.
It’s clear Gove is bitching against her, lobbing questions into conversations with journos. ‘Did the HO know about deportations?’ etc.
Monday, April 30
Oh. B****r. Amber Rudd has resigned. And it seems that the over-ambitious [Gavin] Williamson has somehow engaged the help of James Wharton, ex-MP and now in PR, to begin to agitate for a GW leadership bid. So self-serving.
Tuesday, May 8
Drinks with [Tory MP] Jesse Norman. He’s not quite in the real world. Can he get a grip on anything and take a decision? I just don’t know. But I suspect he is one of those who is incapable of wiring a plug.
Saturday, May 12
President Erdogan [of Turkey] is coming tomorrow. In a meeting to discuss arrangements, the Turkish Ambassador seriously oversteps the mark. He ‘insists’ on certain conditions for the meeting with the Queen, such as including Erdogan’s daughter and her husband.
I lean across the table and say with calm and menacing fierceness: ‘Ambassador — nobody from any country, in any position, never mind how senior they are, ever, ever ‘insists’ on anything in respect of Her Majesty the Queen. Have you got it?’
Monday, May 14
The Israelis have killed 41 Palestinians in Gaza (no response from the UK).
Wednesday, May 16
Chat with Theresa on the plane [to a summit in Sofia]. She is rather leaden and has no easy conversation. It’s as if she is frightened to express an opinion on anything in case it comes back at her later. Just like she was at Oxford [University].
Tuesday, June 5
Chat with Robert Buckland, Solicitor General, on the way into the House. He says Gavin Williamson when Chief Whip ‘was happy to be detested so long as he was feared’, to which I responded, ‘Now that he is no longer feared, he is universally detested.’
Thursday, June 21
Greg Hands has resigned as Trade Minister. There will be a vote next week in which the Government will support the expansion of Heathrow, and Greg was so emphatically opposed to it that he has little choice but to resign on principle.
Meanwhile Boris, who was equally opposed, decides to stay put. Awkward.
He says to me in the corridor, ‘I’d better find somewhere else I need to be.’ He really is just so unscrupulous. But, on this one, also highly amusing.
Sunday, June 24
Gavin Williamson [has] threatened to bring down May if she doesn’t increase defence spending, saying ‘I made her, so I can break her.’ He really is a venomous, self-seeking little s***.
Monday, June 25
Back from Luxembourg in time for the Heathrow vote. But no Boris! As I suspected, he had found a pressing reason to visit Afghanistan.
Friday, June 29
The Remain campaigner Gina Miller would be far more persuasive if she didn’t always speak as if she considers herself the only person in the world whose opinion matters.
Wednesday, July 4
Lunch with George Osborne at the Ivy Kensington. Very convivial. He hates Theresa May, and considers her characterless and robotic. He still maintains a fascination for Boris but there is no love there.
He thinks Gove has some worrying aspects running in his favour — he will start where he left off in terms of leadership support, he is staying inside the pack and he is trying to appeal to the middle ground. George might be right, but Gove’s still a wholesale weirdo.
Friday, July 6
Cabinet meeting taking place all day at Chequers to thrash out an EU exit consensus. It is logically absurd that a housing minister attends but the Minister for Europe [myself] does not. Not that I want to.
‘The Remain campaigner Gina Miller would be far more persuasive if she didn’t always speak as if she considers herself the only person in the world whose opinion matters’
Monday, July 9
So all was agreed at Chequers on Friday, and then Davis bales out as Brexit Secretary 48 hours later. This is on one level catastrophic, on another completely immaterial. He has not exactly been a striking success.
The little tick Steve Baker [Brexit minister] has also gone. He has been quite the most useless minister and is just so simplistic he might just as well not have a brain.
The ghastly Andrea Jenkyns MP is calling for Theresa to be challenged. She is a brainless nothing. Dominic Raab goes to replace DD [as Brexit secretary].
At 3pm, [Boris] resigns. Nothing [will] happen on a new Foreign Secretary before 7pm. I will just enjoy my four hours as acting Foreign Secretary.
Thursday, July 12
Trump’s visit starts properly today. Car to Blenheim Palace. The sumptuous dinner passed without a hitch, until there was a sudden flurry towards the end, caused by a Trump interview in tomorrow’s Sun.
Friday, July 13
The full details of the Trump interview make for uncomfortable reading: he says the PM ignored his advice on Brexit and talks up Boris, saying he would make a great PM. Ouch.
All this when I have been asked to do an extensive media round talking up the positive nature of U.S.–UK relations. But I maintain a poker-faced insistence that all is going absolutely swimmingly, and that we’re perfectly relaxed about his comments. I describe [Trump] as a controversialist who brings a bit of colour to the international stage.
Yeah, and the rest.
‘The little tick Steve Baker [Brexit minister] has also gone. He has been quite the most useless minister and is just so simplistic he might just as well not have a brain’
Tuesday, July 17
All-staff [FCO] meeting: Jeremy Hunt [the new foreign secretary] was just so much more grown-up than Boris.
Wednesday, July 18
Boris’ resignation statement in the Commons. He’s not naturally comfortable speaking in the Chamber. It was certainly no Geoffrey Howe moment.
To Buckingham Palace for a Privy Council meeting in which HM the Queen can present Jeremy Hunt with his seal of office. Once we’d taken our leave of HM, JH was a little gauche in suggesting that we all have a photo. The problem was that we were still in the Queen’s private apartments, stepping around the corgis. Not the place to take photographs.
Monday, July 23
[Home secretary] Sajid Javid has briefed that he will not oppose the death penalty for the two UK-origin terrorists who have been detained in Syria. They will be extradited to the U.S.
It is contemptible that he has played to the Right-wing neo-con gallery in order to promote himself, and has at the same time overturned decades of principled policy under which we oppose the death penalty. It never came across my desk in the FCO, and by mid-morning it turns out that Boris had signed it off. I despair at both of them.
Tuesday, August 14
Some texts from BoJo saying why on earth is the UK not involved in the Franco-German talks on Syria. I could have answered with my honest thoughts, which are that he left the FCO in such policy disarray that we are adrift.
It’s clear Gove is bitching against her (Amber Rudd), lobbing questions into conversations with journos. ‘Did the HO (Home Office) know about deportations (of the Windrush generation)?’ etc’
Saturday, September 8
I tweet against Boris after [he compares] Theresa May to someone who has put a suicide vest around the country and given the detonator to [EU chief Brexit negotiator] Michel Barnier. This is just the sort of attention-seeking excess which makes him look like a clown.
My tweet is pretty vicious: ‘This marks one of the most disgusting moments in modern British politics. I’m sorry, but this is the political end of Boris Johnson. If it isn’t now, I will make sure it is later.’
It’s rather hyperbolic, but it’s the only way to get noticed. To me it’s very simple — the PM must be defended.
Sunday, September 9
Views of [my] tweet have hit a million.
Monday, September 10
My Twitter views have hit 1.8 million. Not a bad day.
Tuesday, September 11
I pen a note to Boris and stick it on the letter board: Dear Boris. It’s not personal . . . In essence I think that [May] is acting in the national interest and you are not. So it’s out with the cannons. Country first . . . It’s as simple as that. Yours ever, Alan.
Extracted from In The Thick of It: The Explosive Private Political Diaries Of A Former Tory Minister, by Alan Duncan, to be published by William Collins on April 15, £25. © Alan Duncan 2021. To order a copy for £22 go to www.mailshop.co.uk/books or call 020 3308 9193. Delivery charges may apply. Free UK delivery on orders over £20. Promotional price valid until 17/04/2021.