Mandrake: Johnson beats a retreat on Rubles
- Credit: PA Wire/PA Images
This week's Mandrake column diaries the attempts to have The New European recognised by the Today programme, and securing an interview with Nigel Farage.
At least a couple of scandals before Windrush – it's actually getting hard to keep track now with this government – Boris Johnson pledged to avenge the attempted murder of the Russian spy Segei Skripal by imposing financial penalties on Vladimir Putin's wealthy cronies with assets in the UK.
'Don't expect them to seize so much as a single Ruble,' whispers Mandrake's disgruntled mole in Whitehall. 'The policy on this remains the same as it was during the Crimean crisis when it was agreed at a meeting at No 10 to quietly ring-fence all Russian money because the fear was that any kind of sanctions would spook others from investing. It's been agreed to keep to that in Brexit Britain – no matter what Russia gets up to.'
After the foreign secretary, had declared 'we're going after the money,' he had been asked by MPs what precisely this meant and immediately he started to obfuscate. 'This is not a country where we in the government can say 'Oi! We think this so-and-so deserves to have his or her collar felt',' he had replied. 'This is not how it works.'
Theresa May was long ago made aware by MI6 of how certain oligarchs have been using the UK as a repository for dirty money, but, for the past three years, she has dithered.
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Johnson has meanwhile been trying to garner favourable headlines by announcing that he would be creating 'new diplomatic posts' in Commonwealth countries, such as the Bahamas and Antigua. 'As ever with Johnson, it's all window-dressing,' adds my informant. 'The High Commissions he is purportedly opening were all recently closed so it's basically a case of 'as you were'.'
Justin's on side
Mandrake's campaign to get the Today programme to acknowledge the existence of The New European rather more often in its review of the newspapers on Thursday mornings has enlisted an unlikely supporter. Step forward, Justin Webb.
'The more you campaign the better,' the show's presenter told me, hearteningly. I bumped into Webb at the Global Launch of the Quality of Nationality Index at Draper's Hall in London.
Speakers included Dimitry Kochenov, the co-creator of the index and chair in EU Constitutional Law at the University of Groningen. He provided a detailed analysis that showed if Brexit goes ahead, UK passports – which gave us easy access to almost all corners of the world thanks to the influence of the EU – would become as restrictive as those held by Chilean citizens.
Webb summarised his contribution thus: 'So our beautiful blue British passports will be pretty much worthless.'
As Amber Rudd desperately tries to present a kinder, gentler public face after the Windrush scandal, Mandrake can reveal the home secretary has been accepting donations from a former UKIP supporter. The latest register of members' interests shows she has been in receipt of £10,000 from Christopher Mills, once a generous donor to UKIP, where he served as business spokesman and a treasurer. He previously gifted £5,000 to Rudd via his company, Growth Financial Services.
Mills, who makes the Sunday Times Rich List with a fortune estimated at £317 million, was a Tory backer before becoming involved with Nigel Farage's outfit. Perhaps Rudd would do well to ponder the advice she received from the great David Lammy in his excoriating attack on her in the Commons: 'If you lay down with dogs, you get fleas.'
Mandrake believes that it is time Nigel Farage granted an interview to The New European. Alas, no amount of teasing on Twitter over the past week could tempt Farage to talk to a journalist who isn't employed by one of his personal friends, such as Sir David Barclay – the co-owner of the Telegraph – or Rupert Murdoch, who owns The Sun.
So I texted the press contact that came up for Farage on his MEP website to see if we could at least discuss the idea. I received an unnerving reply that put me off my lunch. Before I tell you what it was, I must first explain the contact on his website is given as Annabelle Fuller. She was once Farage's press officer and mistress, but has long since chosen to vacate both positions. Annabelle has explained to me that the number I had texted now belongs to a cheeky 15-year-old living in the Midlands. 'I've repeatedly told Nigel to take that number and my email off his website,' she adds, wearily. Methinks the reply I received may well galvanise her former lover into action.
'Nigel can't talk to you now,' the text read. 'He is tied up on the bed in pink fluffy handcuffs.'
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