The appointment of Chris Heaton-Harris makes premature the European Commission’s belief in a softening of the negotiating tone in London
Boris Johnson has appointed new Secretary of State for Europe to the deputy Chris Heaton-Harris, who defines himself on his website as a “fierce Eurosceptic.” He received in the Parliament, when he held a position in the Brexit Ministry, the leader of Vox, Iván Espinosa de Los Monteros, in March 2019, during the electoral campaign that led the Spanish party to obtain representation in the Congress of the Deputies.
Heaton-Harris replaces Wendy Morton in the Secretary of State, who voted to remain in the 2016 referendum. With her appointment, the prime minister tries to appease the unease that the resignation of the until now minister for negotiations with the EU, David Frost.
Johnson has eliminated Frost’s role and has returned the competence of negotiating with Brussels to the Foreign Office. Its owner, Liz Truss, who visited Spain last week, also voted to remain. The management of balances between the conservative factions would justify the appointment of Heaton-Harris.
His knowledge of the EU is not in doubt. He was a diligent MEP for a decade. He highlighted in his criticisms of the Union’s budget management and denounced deficiencies in the audit of spending or waste such as the maintenance of two seats for the European Parliament. As a deputy in Westminster, he chaired the European Research Group (ERG), a faction of the most intransigent Eurosceptics.
The division of duties between Truss and Heaton-Harris will have to be defined in the coming days. Morton, the predecessor of the new Secretary of State, has been in charge of promoting bilateral agreements with British embassies in EU countries to solve specific obstacles derived from ‘Brexit’. Frost was engaged in direct negotiation with Brussels.
The appointment of a radical may make Brussels’ satisfaction premature at the perception of a shift in tone in London in recent weeks on negotiating Irish Protocol reforms. Frost’s resignation would have also pleased community negotiators, who are more confident in the ductility of other Foreign Office diplomats.