TIM WALKER on the Chris Grayling’s future, a rebellion in Nigel Lawson’s family and the former chancellor’s new Saudi gig.
With a father in Lord Lawson who was chairman of Vote Leave and a brother in Dominic who is one of Brexit’s most outspoken proponents in journalism, it takes some spirit for Nigella Lawson to speak out against the insanity of the policy.
At first hesitant, then mildly sceptical, the celebrity cook is now going into battle with all guns blazing. ‘Who’s going to tell him?’ she inquired, sarcastically, on Twitter when Alok Sharma, the business secretary, gormlessly pointed out on that ‘seamless trade is vital for our economy’.
One hopes Nigella’s views aren’t causing too much friction within the family. I’m fond of her brother Dominic – he was the one who first put me in charge of the Mandrake column, when it appeared in the Sunday Telegraph – but it’s been a while now since we last had lunch.
Saudis find a helpmate in Philip Hammond
Philip Hammond honourably quit as chancellor of the exchequer before Boris Johnson became prime minister.
Mandrake is therefore disappointed to see Hammond now taking a more pragmatic approach by working for the Saudi Arabian regime. He has said he will be offering counsel to its finance minister ‘in the context of the kingdom’s rotating presidency of the G20’.
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Why would the Saudis hire Hammond, who’s not known for smooth-talking diplomats and is clearly not on the best of terms with Johnson? Perhaps the clue lies in one of his final acts in office? Just days before resigning as chancellor, Hammond was in Riyadh and his advisers briefed that he had been pressing the Saudi regime to stop broadcasting pirated live sports programming on an illegal internet network called beoutQ, a play on the Qatari-owned network beIN Sports, whose content BeoutQ was allegedly using. Now Saudi piracy threatens to tank the kingdom’s planned takeover of Newcastle United Football Club after the World Trade Organisation raised concerns over the brazen intellectual property theft.
Who better to make the kingdom’s case than the man once known as the ‘quiet assassin’?
Hammond scarcely needs the money. Even before the Saudi gig, he was reportedly making at least £1 million a year after accepting a series of directorships and taking back control of his money-spinning property empire Chiswell (Moorgate) Ltd.
Update: A spokesman for Hammond said: ‘Philip has never discussed Newcastle United with anyone from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia or the British government, and he has not discussed BeoutQ with the Saudis since he left office a year ago. The focus of his work has now understandably shifted to the post-Covid global recovery, and he is advising the G20 Presidency in that context.’
John Bercow always enjoyed a cordial relationship with Chris Grayling during his years as speaker of the House of Commons, but he still had to concede in an interview with Sky News last week that everything the former transport secretary touches ‘turns to disaster’. Warming to his theme, Bercow added: ‘He’s congenitally incapable of seeing a problem without making it very considerably worse.’
It may therefore be a blessed relief for all concerned that ‘failing Grayling’ will not now be succeeding Dominic Grieve as the head of the influential committee which scrutinises the work of the national security services. Mandrake is, however, left wondering what the future holds for the National Portrait Gallery as Grayling has just become one of its trustees. ‘Hopefully he can’t to do much damage as we’re closed for building work until spring 2023,’ whispers my informant.
Tea with Dom
There can be few if any players in the long and acrimonious Brexit saga who have conducted themselves with greater equanimity than Dominic Grieve. The former attorney general heard me out politely as I expressed my concerns about Dominic Cummings touring some of the Ministry of Defence’s most sensitive bases as part of yet another government review.
‘I’m sure they have a lot of people coming in for a cup of tea and a chat, but that doesn’t mean they let them rifle through the files,’ says Grieve. ‘I’ve no doubt he’s got the relevant clearances and they will know how to handle this.’
The SAS, the specialist military research laboratories at Porton Down in Wiltshire, the Special Boat Service and the Rapid Capabilities Office, which is responsible for special project development, are all on his tour. Cummings has already apparently called on MI5 and MI6, the domestic and foreign intelligence agencies.
It’s depressing that whoever leaked the story of Cummings’ tour had so little faith in the British press they chose to give it to the Sydney Morning Herald, a newspaper that, needless to say, is not in Rupert Murdoch’s stable.