'Operation Save Big Dog' To 'The Pork Pie Plot': Westminster's Word Salad Explained

What will British politics serve up next?
"Big Dog"
"Big Dog"
UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor via PA Media

Westminster is a jargon-filled place at the best of times (hello to “laying a statutory instrument”). But in recent days, British political watchers could be forgiven for being utterly confused by the salad of words being casually served up. Here’s our best attempt to explain what they mean.

Last Friday, the Independent reported Boris Johnson was drawing up a list of officials to offer resignations in a bid to save his prime ministership. What’s more, the PM reportedly called the plan “Operation Save Big Dog”.

The idea is to limit the damage caused by the much-anticipated Sue Gray report in the numerous alleged rule-breaking Westminster and Whitehall parties during lockdowns. The boozy gatherings were variously said to be fuelled by “a suitcase of wine” and “wine time Friday”.

Dan Rosenfield, Johnson’s chief of staff, and his private secretary Martin Reynolds, the man behind the infamous ‘BYOB’ party email, were being considered as possible falls guys.

The Independent reported: “The ‘save big dog’ plan includes a communications ‘grid’ in the lead up to the investigation’s conclusion and beyond.”

Operation Red Meat

If saving “Big Dog” is the over-arching aim, then “Operation Red Meat” is the suite of policies (punched in to the aforementioned “grid”) being set out by ministers underpinning the mission. By offering “red meat” to Tory MPs, the thinking is they can be distracted from the Downing Street party allegations and dissuaded from attempting a coup.

Among the initiatives designed to please riled Conservative voters, as well as the backbenchers, is putting the BBC on notice that the licence fee could be replaced after the current deal ends in 2027 (although that already appears to be in retreat). Culture secretary Nadine Dorries has confirmed that the annual payment will be frozen at £159 until 2024, however.

On Wednesday, Johnson confirmed the end England’s Plan B measures, including mask-wearing and work-from-home guidance, on their current expiry date of January 26. They were warmly welcomed by the lockdown-sceptic MPs on the Conservative benches, and the move avoided another massive rebellion if he tried to renew them.

Newspapers have been reporting Tory kite-flying on tougher action against Channel crossings, tasking the military with reducing the number of small boats risking the journey. The Times reported plans are being drawn up to send migrants, including asylum seekers, to countries such as Rwanda and Ghana for processing.

Senior Cabinet minister Michael Gove was reported to be preparing to publish his “levelling up” plans to improve lives in neglected areas across the country.

New plans are also expected to alleviate the impending cost-of-living crisis and further tackle the backlog of operations in the health service caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Operation Dog’s Dinner and Operation Dead Meat

But not everyone has read the script.

Some Tory MPs were not that impressed with the MoD taking over command of the Channel, warning the Royal Navy will be operating a “taxi service” for migrants. Conservative MP Philip Hollobone said in the Commons: “This isn’t Operation Red Meat, it’s Operation Dog’s Dinner.”

Meanwhile, the government of Ghana dismissed any suggestion it is involved in the migrant crackdown. In a tweet, the country’s ministry of foreign affairs has denied talks are ongoing with the UK about hosting a migrant processing facility.

The Ghanaian government not only slapped down the notion it was involved – it even referred to the flurry of ideas as “Operation Dead Meat”.

It said: “The ministry of foreign affairs and regional integration wishes to state categorically that Ghana has not engaged with the UK on any such plan and does not intend to consider any such operation in the future.”

Albania has also dismissed the claim the country is involved in offshoring asylum seekers, with the country’s ambassador telling The Independent it would be “against international law” and “totally contrary to the position of (his) country”.

Despite the attempts to rally MPs behind their leader, Tory wounds appeared to have widened rather than healed. Eight Tory MPs have publicly called for Johnson to go (including one that on Wednesday defected to Labour), and the feeling was the plot to oust Johnson was widening.

On Tuesday, around 20 MPs from the 2019 election intake – called “2019-ers” by many blue-tickers on Twitter – were said to have met to discuss Johnson’s future. The summit was nicknamed the “pork pie plot” (see also: “pork pie putsch”) because it was allegedly hosted in the office of MP Alicia Kearns, whose Melton Mowbray constituency is the home of the traditional meat pie.

It’s unclear where the pastry-themed rebellion fits in with Operation Rinka, a Tory counter-attack on Operation Save Big Dig that’s named after the dog killed in the Jeremy Thorpe affair in the 1970s, according to the Guardian.

Sky News’s deputy political editor Sam Coates reported an “ally” of Johnson dismissing the MPs elected three years ago as “grey wolves ... because they were not socialised in parliament during the pandemic”.

Another senior MP said told Politico: “Some of these pork pie-rs are getting high on the adrenaline of change rather than thinking through the implications for party and government.”

The Mirror and the i reported one MP joking that the unrest would not be quelled. “It’s not Operation Big Dog, it’s Operation Massive Cock,” they mused.


What's Hot