The Londoner: Theresa May left Olly Robbins to seal EU draft

Theresa May departing Downing Street on Friday: Getty Images

Theresa May left her top civil servant Olly Robbins to seal the draft withdrawal agreement with Brussels last week, which according to a civil service source was “completely extraordinary”.

“That she did not go in person to speak to them, leaving Olly to close the deal is astonishing,” they added.

On Tuesday, Brussels and London reached a draft agreement on the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.

Robbins, the country’s lead civil service negotiator, had been toiling into the small hours over the weekend to get the deal across the line. But May did not travel to the Belgian capital herself. Instead she battled with her Cabinet on Wednesday to secure support for the deal and suffered the resignation of Dominic Raab among others. “Europe always leave a bit back to give the lead politician,” the source said, and European politicos were surprised May didn’t seize the opportunity on offer.

This morning a No 10 source denied May had deviated from protocol.

“The deal is still not sealed,” they told us, adding, “The PM is going to Brussels this week,” where she will meet with Jean-Claude Juncker. So is there further wriggle room? No 10 did not reply.

May’s “overreliance on bad advisers” has been described as her “fatal flaw” in the past. Former “chief” Nick Timothy was said to have been behind the Brexit “red lines”, and encouraged May to trigger Article 50 and call the disastrous 2017 snap election. Last week he turned on her, claiming she never believed in Brexit.

Robbins has become her chief Brexit “sherpa” and his transfer from the Department for Exiting the European Union to No 10 was seen as proof that DExEU was being eclipsed as a department. He now works closely with the Prime Minister. The source adds: “The problem with May’s advisers is that they did not understand Europe. The problem with David Cameron’s advisers was they did not understand the Tory Party.”

Pall Mall Tremors

A referendum is underway at The Athenaeum, which counts Gore Vidal and TS Eliot among its former members, to decide whether to relax its famously stiff dress code. Men must wear a jacket and tie. Trainers and jeans are prohibited. The vote is hotly contested, we hear, with emails exchanged like sniper fire. “I sympathise with Athenaeum members in this revolutionary moment,” Lord Adonis told us this morning. “We had the same crisis in the Lords, which has just allowed members to appear without ties. The world hasn’t ended, but its foundations are shaking.”

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The Lords hosted “Girls Breaking Barriers” in the chamber on Friday, less than 24 hours after voting not to suspend Lord Lester over groping allegations. “How can we ensure that girls and young women are able to achieve their potential in the UK and around the world?” the event asks. We wonder.

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A curious winner for The Comment Awards’ Commentator of the Decade prize. “Congratulations to the public for winning Chair’s Choice,” organisers Editorial Intelligence announced — to groans. This year’s adjudication was plagued by controversy and resignations from shortlists by journalists. Perhaps the general public seemed a safer bet?

Spikes in battle-hardened Gina Miller’s armoury

Gina Miller, who has faced death threats since taking the Government to court over Brexit in 2016, does not duck a fight.

“I’m very realistic when I put my head above the parapet,” she told the Harper’s Bazaar annual Bazaar Summit on Thursday.

“I do not go into battle unprepared. I’m aware it’s going to happen, but I put my armour on.”

Sometimes, that armour is literal, and includes “towering heels”, she says. “I don’t wear dresses into battle. “If you wear a dress you are suddenly seen as being more feminine by the guys in the City, so I deliberately don’t.”

Theatre Dynasties out in force for after-party

After last night’s Evening Standard Theatre Awards, the stage was transformed into the setting for a riotous after-party co-hosted by Cressida Bonas.

Guests were in an ebullient mood: Vanessa Redgrave said she was “f***ing thrilled” that her play, The Inheritance, received a gong.

Her daughter, Joely Richardson, could barely contain her surprise at the octagenarian turning the air blue: she exploded into giggles.

The ceremony was co-hosted by American Vogue’s Dame Anna Wintour, whose father Charles, the late Evening Standard editor, founded the awards.

Her daughter, Bee Carrozzini, paid tribute to her grandfather for always taking her to the theatre, a role her mother took over after his death.

“We saw a show a week,” she said. “Even the Sam Mendes production of Cabaret. I was 10.” On arrival at the risqué production, she said, an usher suggested she may be too young. “It’s nothing I haven’t seen before,” she breezed.

Francesco Carrozzini and Bee Carrozzini (Photo: Dave Benett/Getty Images)

SW1A

A Sunday paper reported yesterday that Esther McVey’s “meltdown” in Wednesday’s five-hour Cabinet meeting was so bad “security” was almost called. “Hilarious,” McVey tweets in response. “Seems a bit of straight talking from me to ask Cabinet members to vote on the most important matter in a lifetime made them crumble.” Good to hear McVey is now a fan of straight talk. In July she apologised for “misleading” Parliament over the Universal Credit roll-out.

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This morning Michael Fabricant released a video of himself running in slow motion towards a tree and hugging it to explain what parliamentary committees do. “I am,” he says, “a member of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Ancient Woodlands.” He also suggests an APPG on “solo dancing” with footage of him dancing across Westminster locations and interspersed with Theresa May boogieing. “And if that doesn’t get us out of Europe,” Fabricant says, “nothing will.”

Quote of the Day

'I get asked it in the supermarket, I get asked it walking down the street.' -- 1922 Committee chairman Sir Graham Brady is plagued by people wondering how many letters of no confidence he has received