A UK minister who was involved in negotiations with the Gibraltar Government to ensure continued post-Brexit access to the UK market for Gibraltar-based firms was last night appointed Brexit Secretary by Prime Minister Theresa May.
Stephen Barclay, who until yesterday was a junior health minister but had previously served as Economic Secretary to the Treasury, replaced Dominic Raab, who resigned on Thursday over the draft plan for leaving the EU.
However the role has been downgraded from that of chief Brexit negotiator, as has been the case until now.
Mrs May herself will personally oversee the last 10 days of negotiations with the EU on the future framework of relations, while Mr Barclay will focus on the domestic readiness for Brexit and getting Mrs May’s draft withdrawal agreement through parliament.
The appointment came at the end of a week of frenzied political activity in Westminster and wide speculation about Mrs May’s future following high profile Cabinet resignations by ministers opposed to her draft divorce plan.
But yesterday, a defiant Mrs May won the backing of the most prominent Brexiteer in her government as she fought to save a deal that has stirred up a plot to force her out of her job.
More than two years after the UK voted to leave the EU, it is still unclear how, on what terms or even if the world’s fifth largest economy will leave the bloc as planned on March 29, 2019.
Just hours after announcing that her senior ministers had collectively backed her divorce deal, Mrs May’s premiership was thrust into its most perilous crisis to date when Mr Raab resigned on Thursday in opposition to the agreement.
Other mutinous lawmakers in her party have openly spoken of ousting her and said bluntly that the Brexit deal would not pass parliament.
But Mrs May, who has vowed to stay on as Prime Minister, got a rare boost when Michael Gove, the most prominent Brexit supporting minister, gave his backing to her, saying he would stay on as environment minister.
Asked if he had confidence in Ms May, Mr Gove, who is famous for sinking former foreign minister Boris Johnson’s leadership bid in 2016, told reporters: “I absolutely do.”
“I think it’s absolutely vital that we focus on getting the right deal in the future, and making sure that in the areas that matter so much to the British people we can get a good outcome,” he said.
Trade minister Liam Fox, another leading Brexit supporter, also joined Mr Gove in backing Mrs May – but her future remains uncertain.
The first question she faced on a LBC radio phone-in show to defend her deal was from a caller who asked her to “respectfully stand down”. She did not immediately address that part of the caller’s question.
Mr Barclay a 46-year-old former banker, voted to leave the EU in the 2016 referendum.
But his work as part of the Joint Ministerial Council on Brexit and Gibraltar means he is well acquainted with the issues facing this community and the negotiations to date.
Last night, Chief Minister Fabian Picardo welcomed his appointment.
“I am delighted that Stephen Barclay has been appointed to the post of Secretary of State at the Department for Exiting the European Union,” Mr Picardo said, speaking just minutes after returning to Gibraltar following several days in London.
“He knows about Gibraltar and our issues in Brexit from his time at HM Treasury.”
“At that time, he was an important part of the work we did on continued market access for Gibraltar into the UK market.”
“I very much welcome the appointment and congratulate him on this appointment to a full Cabinet position.”
Mr Barclay qualified as a solicitor before working in financial regulation and then financial crime prevention.
He was director of regulatory affairs and then head of anti-money laundering and sanctions at Barclays bank.
At the annual financial services lunch in 2017 during the Gibraltar Day events [pictured above], Mr Barclay reaffirmed the UK’s commitment to maintaining Gibraltar’s post-Brexit access to the UK market for financial services, highlighting a shared commitment to strong regulation, supervision and cooperation outside the EU.
“I know that Gibraltar has no intention of being a back door, but instead a centre of high quality financial services,” Mr Barclay said at the time.
“And it remains the UK Government’s intention that Gibraltarian financial services firms continue to have the access to the UK they have today and that any disruption is avoided.”