POLITICS

Theresa May Has Just Promoted The Man Who Could Have Destroyed Her

Steve Baker is now in Government.

13/06/2017 16:59 | Updated 13 June 2017
Rex

He played a vital role in securing Brexit, helping to organise Tory eurosceptics into a lean, mean fighting machine that ultimately led to the downfall of David Cameron.

And after the dire election result, Steve Baker had another Prime Minister’s fate in his hands.

As head of the powerful, 80-strong European Research Group, Baker only needed to give the word and a horde of Brexit-backing MPs would have turned on Theresa May and destroyed her premiership.

May realised this, and has taken the unexpected move of making him a Minister in the Brexit Department - a  decision that should quell worries that May was planning to go soft on Brexit.  

Baker may not be a household name, but his organisational skills are well respected in the Tory party and he was a key player among MPs long before his promotion.

He has even been dubbed “the Bill Cash of his generation” by a fellow Tory, such is his knowledge of European matters and the intricacies of Brussels law.

Baker came into Parliament in 2010 as MP for Wycombe. He had spent ten years as an engineering office in the RAF, reaching the rank of flight lieutenant. After working for Lehman Brothers, Baker was motivated to enter the world of politics thanks to a speech delivered by David Cameron in the Czech Republic in 2007.

The subject? How the EU was “the last gasp of an outdated ideology, a philosophy that has no place in our new world of freedom.”

Speaking in Parliament in 2015, Baker revealed how those words had inspired him.

“I agreed with David Cameron so strongly that at that time, when I was very upset about the handling of the Lisbon Treaty, I joined the Conservative Party and sought election. So here I am. I am very grateful to David Cameron for inspiring me so deeply on this issue.”

In his first five years in Parliament he stayed true to his Eurosceptic beliefs, but had a low media profile - certainly no match for the Bernard Jenkins, Peter Bones and John Redwoods when it came to column inches and broadcast time.

It was precisely for that reason that when it came time for Out supporters to organise ahead of the EU referendum, Baker was chosen to spearhead the Conservatives For Britain parliamentary group.

His willingness to be a team player, apparent lack of ego and sense of discretion meant he was the perfect choice to help coordinate a movement traditionally characterised by large egos all vying for attention and power.

PA Wire/PA Images
Steve Baker will be working under Brexit Secretary David Davis

Under his watch, the Tory Brexiteers pulled together, and significant changes were made to the Referendum Bill as it passed through Parliament – including stopping the Government pumping out pro-EU messages in the final weeks of the campaign.

Even after the referendum victory, Baker was clear that having won the war, Brexiteers needed to win the peace.

Along with fellow eurosceptics such as Owen Paterson, Bernard Jenkin and John Redwood, Baker was part of an unofficial ‘Brexit Cabinet’ created with party - known as the “All Souls Group” after holding meetings at the Oxford College.

Each MP took on a different remit, and led discussions and produced reports that were pumped straight into Downing Street.

Before the election, one member of the group was clear that even if they were unhappy with other aspects of May’s premiership they were not going to rock the boat as their plans for Brexit were being followed virtually to the letter by Downing Street.

PA Wire/PA Images
Theresa May with Gavin Barwell, who is now her new Chief of Staff.

Yet nerves began to fray after May lost her majority. Not just because Remain MPs such as Ken Clarke and Anna Soubry now held more power in the Commons, but because of the reshuffle of the top team in Downing Street.

Gavin Barwell, who lost his Croydon Central seat in the election, is May’s new Chief of Staff. He was one of the most vocal Remainers on the Tory benches, and even branded Ukip’s Nigel Farage a “bigot” and a “racist.”

In an interview with the BBC’s Panorama programme broadcast on Monday, Barwell was clear that he felt the Tories’ approach to Brexit had cost them votes.

“We are very clear in my seat, that the area of the constituency where Labour did best was the area that had voted heavily for remain… So there’s clearly evidence, I think, that people are angry about Brexit still, Jeremy Corbyn somehow managed to get them behind him.”

As well as Barwell, May promoted her close friend – and fellow Remain campaigner – Damien Green to First Secretary of State, making him effectively Deputy Prime Minister.

Even the return of Michael Gove to the Cabinet was not enough to calm the fears of some Tories that Brexit was being delivered by Remainers – and it would be fudged.

“It is also the case we need to recognise we, as Conservatives, were not returned as a majority. That means we need to proceed with the maximum possible consensus,” he said.

“We also need to ensure that the concerns of people who vote Remain, many of whom want us to press ahead with leaving the EU as quickly and in as orderly a fashion as possible, we need to make sure their concerns are part of our conversation.”

After the interview, one high-profile Brexit-backing MP told HuffPost UK:

“We are all depressed.

“If it goes on the way it has been going, it will be the right of the party that brings her down, not the left.”

On Tuesday morning, ministers from the Brexit and International Trade departments met with worried MPs to reassure them the plans for leaving the Single Market and customs union had not changed.

Baker described the meeting as “hugely encouraging and constructive.”

A few hours later, and he was in Government, and many Brexit MPs will use those same words to describe his appointment.

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