MANDRAKE: Tensions in David Davis/Boris Johnson alliance
- Credit: PA Archive/PA Images
Boris Johnson shows no interest in David Davis's Brexit 'solution,' Lord Bell bails out of The Great British Brexit Company, and is the morality of the Daily Telegraph's £270,000-a-year columnist causing concern to the Barclay brothers?
Although ostensibly still backing Boris Johnson for the Tory leadership, David Davis's advice to him ahead of the weekend's hustings event was barbed to say the least: "Be yourself, be sober and remember the country."
Behind the scenes, I hear relations between the two men have become strained not so much because of the latest revelations about Johnson's private life, but Davis's dismay that Johnson is showing no interest in his much-vaunted solution to the Brexit impasse.
"Davis has always seen his free trade agreement - what he calls 'Canada plus' - as the only sensible way to save Brexit," says my man in Westminster. "The last thing Johnson wants to do, however, is anything to enhance his old rival's status within the party so he's keeping him and his big idea very much at bay."
The estrangement between the two prominent Brexiteers shows it may well be easier said than done for the party's Leavers to keep up a united front for very much longer. Davis, pictured, couldn't even be bothered to watch Johnson's debut in the BBC leadership debate last week.
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"As Johnson has been trying to get into an electoral pact with Nigel Farage, Davis has been discreetly reaching out across the Leave-Remain and party divides to try to establish himself as the more rational Brexiteer," adds my source. "His ego is every bit as big as Johnson's, and, take it from me, he has by no means given up on his own leadership ambitions. His policy of giving Johnson just enough rope seems to be paying off."
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Now that it is abundantly clear there is nothing either great or British about Brexit, Lord Bell has quietly given up on The Great British Brexit Company. The co-founder of the now-defunct and disgraced Bell Pottinger PR outfit has just updated his entry in the Register of Lords' Interests to acknowledge he is no longer involved with the GBBC, which he founded in May 2017 to sell Brexit merchandise. Bell, its sole director, is behind with the paperwork for the company so it's not clear whether it may have lost money.
Bell is mostly preoccupied these days with Sans Frontieres Associates, which attracted unwelcome headlines last week after it was revealed it had been involved in setting up a fake grassroots campaign on behalf of a client that was opposed to a new development in east London. SFA's latest accounts show accumulated losses of £480,971.
Boris Johnson will have been dismayed that the Daily Telegraph made quite so much of the story of his altercation with his girlfriend Carrie Symonds. The newspaper had up until now tended to downplay or ignore negative stories about their £270,000-a-year columnist.
"Word came down from on high that we could for once throw the book at him," says my nark in the newsroom. "We did it with some relish, not least because Johnson is paid about as much as the entire reporting staff put together."
Sir David and Sir Frederick Barclay, the newspaper's owners, are devout Roman Catholics and were last reported to have been concerned about Johnson's personal morality during his period editing their other title, the Spectator. This may be an opportune moment for Johnson to check his Telegraph contract: they generally come with a clause about not bringing the paper into disrepute.
There is intense competition among the pro-Brexit Tory MPs when it comes to outside earnings. Sir Geoffrey Cox, the attorney general, has always been the envy of his colleagues for trousering around £500,000 in a good year from his extra-curricular legal work. Jacob Rees-Mogg would appear to have topped even that, according to a Channel 4 Dispatches investigation that maintained he had made around £7m from investments since the referendum.
It must therefore have irked Mogg, pictured, when I disclosed last week that he had made a paltry £22,500 from his widely-panned book, The Victorians: Twelve Titans Who Forged Britain. He has now updated the register to show that he has just pocketed an additional £3,500 from his publishers for putting in a further 22 hours making an audio recording of it. Useful loose change.