15 Jul 2014

Cabinet reshuffle: William Hague quits

One longstanding friend of William Hague’s said he’d lost his appetite for top level British politics. He knew George Osborne (once his aide) wanted his job if the Tories were re-elected. He’d had his one pitch for the top job in 2001 as leader of the Tories in opposition. He didn’t want to be chancellor. Pretending to run again for his seat when he didn’t have his heart in it wasn’t his style.


Knowing this the duo at the top of the party wondered whether they could lure Mr Hague to square their problems over filling the European Commission slot. But Mr Hague wasn’t interested. He’d like another big international job if it came along but not that one.

Mr Hague was very wounded by the collapsed attempt to lead military intervention in Syria. Mr Osborne and David Cameron spun round to give a blanket promise not to go near the idea again. Hague was less comfortable with what they saw as necessary trimming.

In Whitehall in recent months you found a lot of people who said the outgoing foreign secretary had lost his motivation but not many who thought he’d move out of post ahead of the election. He’ll stay in the Cabinet as leader of the Commons in what has become the departure lounge of British front bench politics.

Read more: Ken Clarke may be dispensable – but don’t expect him to go quietly

Although he was deputy prime minister in waiting when the Tories came to office the coalition scuppered that notion. Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne liked having him in the room for strategic chat but the Tory arm of this government was always more of a duumvirate than a triumvirate.

Philip Hammond, his expected replacement, is more instinctively cautious of intervention than his predecessor. Critically, he would start as a more thorough-going Eurosceptic than Mr Hague had become at the time of his FCO departure.

He’s openly contemplated leaving the EU, a position Mr Cameron has (so far) refused to utter. But Philip Hammond  has been heard to recite loyally the prime minister’s pretty minimilast (to core Euroscpetics’ minds) version of EU renegotiation as written in the Sunday Telegraph ahead of this year’s Euro elections.

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