Last week Theresa May announced that she was not planning to involve Parliament in the Brexit process. She claimed that those who wanted Parliament to have a say ‘are not standing up for democracy, they’re trying to subvert it’. Whatever you think about Brexit, allowing the Prime Minister to exercise this much power single handedly is a dangerous precedent to set. Whilst the people voted for Brexit, they voted to take back control, not give the Prime Minister a blank cheque. There are a very large number of decisions that are going to be taken about how Brexit is implemented and the effects that this has on all our lives. It is only right that our elected representatives are involved in holding the government to account and representing our views.
So far the public have been frozen out of the Brexit process, meanwhile research by Spinwatch shows that powerful corporate lobbyists are gaining more influence than ever. As businesses clamour over each other vying for the ear of a minister before any decisions are made, specialist ‘Brexit’ units in lobbying firms have sprung up to capitalize on the uncertainty surrounding the next steps for Britain. These well-connected firms contain ex-spads and even ministers showing businesses the best way to get what they want out of the negotiations. They have former employees in government positions, ensuring there’s always a friendly voice on the other end of the phone. So let’s meet the lobbying firms who have more say over Brexit than you:
1 ) Interel
Founded by newly appointed Northern Ireland Minister Andrew Dunlop, Interel has taken full advantage of the revolving door. The firm promises to put clients ‘in touch with the top influencers in the Brexit process’, and chances are they can deliver; lobbyist Oli Waghorn was also a former special advisor to Liam Fox. They also have a friend in the treasury, as former lobbyist Graham Hook now works for Philip Hammond.
Run by John Major’s former press secretary, Hanover has plenty of contacts in the current government so their clients shouldn’t have too much trouble voicing their Brexit concerns. Former employees have gone on to be special advisors to Defence Secretary Michael Fallon, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Communities Secretary Sajid Javid. Hanover’s lobbyists will no doubt utilise their former colleagues when protecting the interests of clients like pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, fracking firm Cuadrilla and big bankers Goldman Sachs.
Portland has set up a dedicated Brexit unit ready to show clients ‘how they can enter the debate’. No doubt they will be helped along by their connections at No. 10; three of Portland’s former lobbyists are now working as advisors to Theresa May. Clients will also have the benefit of current employees who include former Ambassador to the EU, an ex-City minister, and Michael Portillo.
4) Quiller Consultants
On its website Quiller boasts that their consultants have ‘worked at senior levels in government’. The revolving door also spins the other way and they have several ex-employees ideally placed to help them and their clients take advantage of Brexit negotiations. Poised in pole position is former Quiller’s boss George Bridges who is now a junior minister in the department for Brexit. Former lobbyist Stephen Parkinson is also a political secretary to Theresa May, should they need the help of the PM.
US lobbying firm Teneo has created a dedicated ‘Brexit Client Transition Unit’ ready to protect the interests of clients like Coca-Cola, HSBC, Nissan and McDonalds. They’ve brought in the big guns by hiring former Conservative Party leader and foreign secretary William Hague. I’m sure he’ll have no problem getting having a quiet word with his former fellow cabinet members on behalf of big business. They’re also hoping to bring Cameron’s former spin doctor, Sir Craig Oliver, on board. Formerly known as ‘Sir Spin’ he’ll likely have a wealth of insider information and close contacts to help Teneo’s clients take advantage of Brexit.
There is a real danger that those of us who can’t afford to hire a lobbying firm to voice our concerns about Brexit, or who lack friends in high places, will just have to sit back and see what happens. As for Theresa May’s claims that her government is driven ‘not by the interests of the rich and powerful, but by the interests of ordinary, working class people’, whilst lobbying is left unchecked and the revolving door keeps spinning it doesn’t look like it is going to be case.