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ANDREW PIERCE: Tom Scholar who's pulling Hammond's strings

  • Treachery, back-biting and accusations have been the background to Brexit
  • Central to the anti-democratic skulduggery is Chancellor Philip Hammond
  • The reluctant convert to the Brexit cause has been making mischief everywhere

By Andrew Pierce for the Daily Mail

Published: 21:03 EDT, 4 August 2017 | Updated: 21:20 EDT, 4 August 2017

Treachery. Back-biting. Accusations of lies. These, sadly, have been the background to the Battle for Brexit 2017.

It was as if the EU referendum of 2016 had never happened, with Remainers and Leavers still fighting each other over Britain's future. Central to all this anti-democratic skulduggery has been Chancellor Philip Hammond.

The reluctant convert to the Brexit cause has been making mischief everywhere — from the pages of the achingly Europhile Financial Times, where he called for Britain's withdrawal from the EU to be transitional, to an uninspiring interview with the French Establishment newspaper Le Monde.

Indeed, most unhelpful to the cause of Brexit have been his comments that he won't reduce British taxes and undercut EU countries as part of a bold, post-EU membership drive to attract the most successful foreign businesses to Britain.

Treachery. Back-biting. Accusations of lies. These have been the background to the Battle for Brexit 2017. Central to this skulduggery has been Chancellor Philip Hammond (above)
Treachery. Back-biting. Accusations of lies. These have been the background to the Battle for Brexit 2017. Central to this skulduggery has been Chancellor Philip Hammond (above)

Treachery. Back-biting. Accusations of lies. These have been the background to the Battle for Brexit 2017. Central to this skulduggery has been Chancellor Philip Hammond (above)

Not only did this signal weaken the hand of British officials negotiating in Brussels, but he was brazenly contradicting comments he himself made in January.

Also, the Saboteur-in-Chief was given the prime slot on Radio 4's Today programme to promote his provocative soft Brexit agenda.

Without any liaison with the holidaying Prime Minister, Hammond claimed there was 'broadly' Cabinet agreement on a three-year transition deal.

Colleagues of 'Spreadsheet Phil' were taken by surprise. For example, International Development Secretary Liam Fox, a long-time Eurosceptic, was astonished.

He rejected the idea of a 'consensus' on free movement continuing for three years. 'If there have been discussions on that, I have not been party to them,' he said.

So, apart from indulging in shameless disloyalty — which seems to be Hammond's favourite Tory pastime — what is this one-time used car seller's motivation?

First, he is ferociously ambitious and sees himself as a future Tory leader — an opinion, it must be said, that is seen by many of his colleagues as evidence of his ability for self-delusion.

He clearly thinks this goal can best be achieved as the Cabinet cheerleader for a soft Brexit. Also, he seems bent on revenge after it was widely said he'd be sacked by Theresa May if she won a big majority in June.

But there is another, fascinating, factor. It is the role of the Treasury's most senior mandarin, Sir Tom Scholar.

The Treasury, even more than the overtly Europhile Foreign Office, is dominated by civil servants who are wedded to ever deeper political and monetary union with the EU.

But what has surprised even seasoned Whitehall watchers is how easily Sir Tom and his officials have hijacked comprehensive school-educated Hammond with their soft Brexit strategy.

The Chancellor, it seems, has forged an unhealthily close relationship with Sir Tom.

An ardent Europhile, the 48- year-old mandarin has a poor track record when it comes to negotiating with Brussels.

There is another, fascinating, factor. It is the role of the Treasury's most senior mandarin, Sir Tom Scholar (pictured)
There is another, fascinating, factor. It is the role of the Treasury's most senior mandarin, Sir Tom Scholar (pictured)

There is another, fascinating, factor. It is the role of the Treasury's most senior mandarin, Sir Tom Scholar (pictured)

Notoriously, in his previous post, as Principal Adviser on the EU to Prime Minister Cameron, he was seen as a push-over who failed to stand up for Britain.

He was head of Cameron's negotiating team that tried — and dismally failed — to secure a better deal for Britain from the EU in the run-up to the referendum. Despite Cameron saying that the EU needed 'fundamental, far-reaching change' and asking his negotiating team to wrest reforms from other member states, he and Sir Tom came back empty-handed.

Sir Tom, it emerged, never even asked for any changes to freedom of movement rules — which, with mass illegal immigration, were universally seen as flawed — or demanded the repatriation of a few sovereign powers to the UK.

Mats Persson, a Downing Street adviser on Europe until the referendum, criticised Sir Tom, saying the negotiation 'was neither transformative, nor referendum-winning'.

Others said Cameron had promised to secure half a loaf but didn't even manage to come back with any crumbs.

Sir Tom, significantly, was also one of the architects of Project Fear which was cynically designed to terrify people into voting to stay in the EU.

In retrospect, it was a disastrous strategy. Its dishonesty was a significant factor in many middle of the road voters backing Brexit.

But such is the arrogance of the Whitehall ruling class that failure is rewarded by promotion.

So is the case with Sir Tom Scholar. How telling to that, in this cosy world of mutual back-scratching, following Project Fear co-driver George Osborne's fall from grace and decision to cash in by taking a series of fat-cat jobs, Sir Tom said he had 'no concerns' about Osborne taking a lucrative part-time job with a finance giant.

The mandarin had given his advice to the shamefully weak watchdog, which decides if there might be a conflict of interest should an ex-minister takes a job with a business in the same area he or she had ministerial responsibility.

Osborne, who, in one of his portfolio of jobs, as editor of the London Evening Standard, is trying to sabotage Brexit, is still on good terms with Sir Tom.

With a new Chancellor to groom, Tory Remainers believe that Sir Tom moved quickly to turn Philip Hammond into his puppet.

So who is this soft Brexit puppet-master?

Sir Tom joined the Treasury in 1992, embarking on a classic fast track mandarin's career. Within five years, he had become Labour Chancellor Gordon Brown's first principal private secretary.

In 2001 he took time out from Whitehall to be British representative on the boards of the International Money Fund and the World Bank. That was followed by a six-year spell as economic minister in the British Embassy in Washington. There, however, he became embroiled in an embarrassing story about his private life.

The respected financial newspaper, the Wall Street Journal, published a leaked email in 2007 which it said had been sent to World Bank bank bosses by an unnamed colleague of Scholar.

It said that the Cambridge-educated Briton had abused his position by helping his girlfriend get a better job.

The email was alleged to have said: 'This woman has been given preferential treatment in (the department) because of her relationship with (Scholar).

Sir Tom has form for being able to exert a powerful influence over politicians. This was demonstrated by Baroness Vadera (pictured), who was a business minister in the Labour government and went on to be chair of the giant Spanish-run bank Santander UK
Sir Tom has form for being able to exert a powerful influence over politicians. This was demonstrated by Baroness Vadera (pictured), who was a business minister in the Labour government and went on to be chair of the giant Spanish-run bank Santander UK

Sir Tom has form for being able to exert a powerful influence over politicians. This was demonstrated by Baroness Vadera (pictured), who was a business minister in the Labour government and went on to be chair of the giant Spanish-run bank Santander UK

'This affair is well-known and is in violation of the bank staff rules and the board's standards of conduct.'

In sum, the email accused Scholar of exploiting his 'privileged position' to get his lover a better job, despite her 'limited professional qualification'.

It added: 'Several staff members have reported these facts . . . these complaints have been ignored.'

Scholar denied he had helped the unnamed woman, who is understood to be Fabiola Altimari, whom he later married.

He said in a statement: 'There is no conflict of interest. As an executive director, representing my government at the World Bank, I do not have any supervisory responsibility for bank staff beyond the five in my immediate office. I am not the supervisor of my partner, either directly or indirectly.

'We have never come into professional contact and I have made arrangements to avoid any possibility of professional contact.'

The couple are said to have married in Virginia, now have three daughters, and live in a £1.8 million house in south-east London.

Sir Tom has form for being able to exert a powerful influence over politicians.

This was demonstrated by Baroness Vadera, who was a business minister in the Labour government and went on to be chair of the giant Spanish-run bank Santander UK.

She said: 'When I joined the government, I found the place bewildering. But he [Sir Tom Scholar] was somebody who had complete command and control.'

She added: 'My job was more of an advisory/policy role. His was in making it happen.'

Another ally of Sir Tom is Sir Ivan Rogers, a former top mandarin to Tony Blair who went on to become Britain's ambassador to the EU.

He enraged Mrs May's government last December when he spoke out of turn and gloomily suggested it could take a decade to secure a post-Brexit trade deal with Europe — and even that could still collapse.

Praising Sir Tom, his fellow hapless EU negotiator with Cameron, Sir Ivan has said: 'He wears his intellect lightly — he doesn't lecture people and isn't pompous and po-faced.'

Maybe. But one thing is certain: Philip Hammond is the latest politician to fall under the unelected, and very Europhile, mandarin's spell. 


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