The government has told a Labour peer he was being sidelined from the race to become the next head of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) because he wasn’t a ‘Brexiter’.
The government told Lord Mandelson – a former cabinet member under Gordon Brown – that he would not be nominated as a potential candidate to lead the WTO because of his anti-Brexit views.
During a call on Monday night, Lord Mandelson was told by the international trade secretary, Liz Truss, that he’d be overlooked for the role because ‘he was not a Brexiteer’.
The former business secretary and EU ambassador had been considered as a potential nominee, alongside former international trade secretary and fervent Brexiteer Liam Fox, to take up the mantle after current WTO boss Roberto Azevêdo steps down.
According to those present during the phone call, Truss did not question Lord Mandelson’s qualifications for the job.
Lord Mandelson told the FT: ‘Nominating me would probably annoy some in Tory ranks who are more tribal Britain than global Britain but I hoped my experience and credentials would outweigh political considerations.
‘I am sure the WTO will find someone else qualified to lead the organisation’.
Any candidate vying for the top job would need the overwhelming backing of the General Council, which consists of all WTO members.
Lord Mandelson had been viewed as a safe pick given his previous experience in Brussels, and would have likely put him in good stead to be backed by EU countries.
Fox, on the other hand, is less popular among those nations but is Downing Street’s preferred candidate and still remains in the running.
‘That’s the problem in a nutshell,’ said one Tory ex-minister. ‘We had one candidate who might have been acceptable to Europe but was unacceptable to Downing Street and another candidate acceptable to Number 10 but not to the EU.’
Cautioning colleagues, one official warned: ‘It’s not a good look for us to field someone unless we are certain they will be elected.’
Downing Street said no final decision had been taken on whether to run a candidate but one official said ‘discussions were ongoing’ about whether Boris Johnson would formally propose Fox.
Nominations for Azevêdo’s successor closes on Wednesday.