Sunday 4 November 2018

Sir Jeremy Heyward is dead - the Chequers plan for Brexit was his last achievement

The glories of our blood and state
Are shadows, not substantial things;
There is no armour against Fate;
Death lays his icy hand on kings.
Jeremy John Heywood, Baron Heywood of Whitehall, KCB, CVO, exactly one month younger than me and until two weeks ago Head of the British Civil Service, has died of cancer days after being ennobled. He was, for many years, more than anyone else the man in charge of Great Britain. 

His long absence on medical leave, the great age of the Queen and the vacillating style and precarious position of the Prime Minister, who heads a minority government, complicate things at a moment when leadership was required.

Tributes have poured in praising him, including from the present and last three Prime Ministers, but in Dr. Johnson's words, "In lapidary inscriptions a man is not upon oath". This 2012 article from the malicious pen of Quentin Letts may possibly (how do I know?) give you a better idea of the man. 
He is steering policy, attending daily strategy meetings, sitting next to ‘DC’ at Cabinet, shimmering with purpose. If Heywood disapproves of a project, it disappears from Cameron’s in-tray. One Cabinet minister says, ‘We cannot have a referendum on who runs Britain because the answer will be the same whether we leave the EU or not: Jeremy Heywood.’ And what is Sir Jeremy’s agenda? Well, that’s a complicated question, Minister. He’s certainly no friend of the Tory heartlands or of the right wing of the PM’s party. Though Heywood presents himself as a reformer his mission seems to be to make sure no bill has a discernibly Tory twang. He’s also a stickler for European law, much energised by the importance of keeping the Lib Dems sweet. It is almost as if his main job, these days, is to keep Nick Clegg happy.
Lord Adonis, the preposterously named Labour peer who worked with Lord Heywood, says of him in the Financial Times today,
Heywood took little part in Cameron’s decision in 2013 to support a Brexit referendum. Nor did he take charge of Cameron’s ‘renegotiation’ with Angela Merkel after his surprise re-election with an outright majority in May 2015. He regretted May’s inability to go down a ‘soft Brexit’ path after Cameron’s referendum defeat and his resignation in June 2016. Heywood’s position was unusually weak in the first year of May’s premiership. He was also less omni-present than at any time in his No 10 career because of the onset of cancer. Heywood supported Olly Robbins, May’s chief Brexit negotiator, in his struggle to assert a pragmatic policy in the face of Cabinet die-hards. The ‘Chequers compromise’ of this July was his last notable project.
It seems his instincts were pro-EU, and possibly left-of-centre, certainly reformist, but this does not mean he was not a good civil servant. I fear, though, that he and other senior civil servants and diplomats wanted as soft a Brexit as they could achieve. 

Theresa May's ‘Chequers compromise’ of this July was his last notable project.

Lord Adonis quotes Milton:
Lycidas is dead . . . and hath not left his peer.
I am moved to quote Sir Christopher Wren's tomb:
Lector, si monumentum requiris, circumspice.
If you seek his monument, look around you.


  1. Surly Sir Cover-Up takes a tonking on telly from MPs: QUENTIN LETTS sees the civil service chief under scrutiny
    PUBLISHED: 00:58 GMT, 2 March 2016

  2. The most potent, permanent and elusive figure in British politics. Guardian Long Read Andy Beckett, Wed 27 Jan 2016