David Cameron’s former right-hand woman reveals the betrayal that ripped the Tories apart

For more than a decade, Kate Fall was at the heart of David Cameron’s team. 

As his deputy chief of staff, she was his gatekeeper — the person who sat outside his office and decided who came in and who didn’t. 

Now she has written the riveting inside story of her years in the nerve-centre of power, serialised exclusively in the Daily Mail. 

In this final extract, she reveals how, even though the Conservatives had won an unexpected majority in the 2015 General Election, the issue of Europe quickly began to divide David Cameron’s key allies. 

May 2015. Amazing to be back in Downing Street for another five years! David and George are now at the top of their game. However, I soon sense the beginning of a friction between the Cameron and Osborne teams, which hasn’t been present before.

It’s David’s own fault. He has let slip in an interview that he won’t fight another election, thus making himself a partially lame duck in what should be his moment of glory. Only partially, because he has been careful to say he’ll serve a full five years, and that’s a long time in politics.

But still — George Osborne is the coming man. And David has morphed into a sort of king, looking affectionately at his bumptious, ambitious heir apparent.

Election tension: In May 2015, David Cameron gathers a team of advisers (Kate Fall far right) at his home

There have been many things we wanted to do but couldn’t, either because we had to make concessions to the Lib Dems or because austerity dominated the political landscape. Now we have political liberty.

Philip Hammond stays in situ as Foreign Secretary. We all like his sweet, dry charm, and the fact that he doesn’t play games. He likes to move with caution and ‘check in’ before doing anything radical.

Apart, that is, from when he’s driving his car, which he likes to do at great speed.

The next big decision is whether we keep Michael Gove on as Chief Whip, a job he hates and isn’t particularly good at. We agree it’s best to move him to Justice, where he can put his considerable creative intellect to reforming prisons.

There is another reason for the move. Michael brings much to our team at No 10 — not least his brilliance and charm. But although in many ways he fits in as an ultra-moderniser, he is also of a very different political mindset — more radical than conservative.

David once branded him a bit of a Maoist: someone who believes that progress only comes through creative destruction (Gove himself being the force of creative destruction).

This approach to government can be refreshing; it’s important to be challenged, especially now we are entering our eleventh year of working together.

David Cameron with his Wife Samantha arrives in No10 Downing Street after seeing the Queen the morning he won the 2015 General Election

David Cameron with his Wife Samantha arrives in No10 Downing Street after seeing the Queen the morning he won the 2015 General Election 

But sometimes David and Michael just don’t agree. And if there’s one thing No 10 can’t cope with, it’s confusion.

Anyway, Justice is a big promotion for Michael and we all think he will be pleased.

There is a feeling that George’s team think they are the future and the No 10 team are the past. They fight over column inches. At the party conference there is adulation for George, which amuses David and me, but others in No 10 are less sanguine.

And it’s not just friction between Nos 10 and 11. After David delivers his 2015 conference speech, Boris Johnson follows David and me to the lift, begging us not to give way to George by giving the go-ahead to the third runway at Heathrow.

Boris sees everything through the prism of how George Osborne plans to torture him next.

Right now, he is still mayor of London but his time in office is nearly up. So David discusses giving Boris the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, with a view to something more senior when he retires from the mayoralty.

Boris turns it down. He is nervous of joining the team — and nervous of not, always trying to gauge the political advantage. But the money weighs heaviest with him.

To become the Culture Secretary, he would need to give up all his outside interests, including his weekly column with the Daily Telegraph. So, instead, it is agreed that he’ll attend the Government’s political Cabinet, which meets once a week, as mayor.

It is strange to see him there, sitting alongside other members of the Cabinet, after having been an outsider for so long. We brace ourselves for his motivational ‘Churchillian interventions’ but they never seem to materialise.

On the horizon looms the promised referendum on Europe.

When David was elected party leader in 2005, he was very much in step with the party on Europe. A self-confessed Eurosceptic, he was strongly anti-euro and pro-reform. He was never a Leaver, however; there weren’t many of those around at that time. But since then, their numbers had grown; so most of all, David just wanted the party to stop ‘banging on about Europe’.

William Hague, who is pragmatic about these things, felt we’d never be able to keep the party together, marching unified into the 2015 election, without a commitment to an in/out referendum.

The strong arguments against were voiced most convincingly by George Osborne, who believed a referendum would be potentially devastating for our country and split the Tory party for a generation. But David believes in confronting political demons and resolving them, which means allowing the country to discuss and debate, then choose.

All three main parties had gone into the 2015 election pledging an in/out referendum in one form or another. So there was a strong sense that a referendum was coming, whether we wanted it to or not.

For David, the sooner he holds the referendum, the sooner he can turn to other things. George Osborne, though still uncomfortable with the whole idea, sees the attraction of an early vote for different reasons: he is worried that the economy may turn against us if we wait, losing us support.

The Johnsons formed their very own global elite 

Survivors: Stanley, Rachel, Boris and Jo

Survivors: Stanley, Rachel, Boris and Jo

I’ve known Boris Johnson and his siblings since childhood because our fathers were friends. Each is clever and compelling in his or her own way, but they are also a tribe with a high level of Darwinian survival instincts.

This, I’m sure, comes from being brought up in one of the coldest houses in England (the last time I slept there, it actually snowed on my head in bed) and having to compete with each other. But they have chosen to keep close and form a sort of global elite, all their own.

As head of the Oxford Union, Boris was already ‘somebody’ when I arrived at university. His sister Rachel — in the year below him — was his loudest cheerleader.

After Boris left Oxford, my family visited them at their farm in the West Country, Boris with his fiancée Allegra. Sitting around, discussing what to do next, Rachel announced they would write a book together, about how Oxford is a playpen for running the country.

The Johnsons had conquered Oxford and were now off to conquer the world. And nothing changed very much over the years.

And there is another, more personal, reason. An early referendum would give George time to rebuild his relationship with the party membership, who are 80 per cent for ‘Brexit’, before he takes his own shot at the leadership when David stands down.

We argue furiously about the timing among ourselves. In the end, over a curry in St James’s, David and George decide on an early date: June 23, 2016.

But first, we have to get cracking with negotiations to deliver a new deal for Britain in Europe. This engulfs all and everything — including my diary, which fills up with meetings.

The most important of these is a weekly session, chaired by George, in the No 11 dining room, where we thrash out the guts of the package.

We keep returning to the vexed issue of getting an emergency brake on immigration from Europe. The Euro-pragmatists argue that the policy floated in the speech will never be accepted in Europe, so why ask for it? David will lose all credibility.

It is still undecided whether or not, when the time comes, all MPs will be free to choose which side they support in the referendum. Those who favour a free vote (David, me) do so mostly because we believe the referendum should, in part, be a cathartic exercise for the nation and the party.

Have a fair fight and the issue can be laid to rest for generations, and we can regroup as a party afterwards. Hobble the horse and the issue will remain an open sore.

George disagrees. He thinks a free vote encourages people who would otherwise stay loyal to the leadership to take the opposite side. It could become a test of Tory ‘virility’ to vote Brexit.

In the meantime, the Eurosceptics are busy working on a ‘Leave’ campaign. We are totally hamstrung because we cannot be seen to take sides — remain or leave — until we know the outcome of the renegotiations.

For New Year 2015, the Camerons stay at Chequers and ask the Goves to join them. The main thing that comes out of this gathering is that Michael is going to do the ‘right thing’ on Europe, says David, when I catch up with him after the break.

Really? I say.

David nods.

I am relieved. We need our closest and most talented allies around us at this time. Michael may not be a fan of the EU but he is above all a loyalist — and he urged David not to hold the referendum in the first place.

On our first day back in the office, chief of staff Ed Llewellyn and I both have a missed call from Chris Grayling. We look at each other, smelling a large rat.

It turns out that he wants an urgent word with the PM. Never a good sign.

Just as we suspect, Chris wants to resign — to fight for Leave. Our sense is that he has mused over his career during the Christmas break and decided (rightly) that it’s not on an upward trajectory.

There will certainly be a reshuffle after the referendum. And his calculation is that in making himself the senior ‘outer’, he will be near-impossible to leave out of a post-referendum Cabinet, which will need to be balanced between Leave and Remain supporters as we try to heal party rifts.

It’s clever thinking, but there is a flaw. We have decided, on balance, to go for a free vote, so he is going to look a bit foolish resigning for nothing.

Gordon Brown resigns

After the 2010 election, Gordon Brown resigns — and we watch, captivated, as the two Miliband brothers battle it out for leadership of the Labour Party. 

We consider David by far the more problematic adversary.

George Osborne welcomes the news of Ed’s triumph on bended and grateful knees in front of the TV set.

Pulling Chris Grayling back from the brink is difficult — like stopping a JCB digger heading over a field. Fortunately, he sees the sense in our argument.

Then there is the question of what to do about Boris — by no means a new one. Now that he is coming near to the end of his mayoralty, he is interested at last in doing a job in government.

So David is dangling a ‘senior’ Cabinet role. We talk quite a lot about what this should be — Defence, probably.

George thinks this will simply be a showcase for Boris: all uniforms and no tough decisions. What about Health, he jokes.

All initial signs show Boris as being pretty supportive of David, when it comes to the referendum. We are less sure about which way Michael Gove will turn.

There are ominous signs: texts and calls from David, and suggestions for family dinners, are just making him clam up.

Then there is a difficult meeting between David and George in the Prime Minister’s flat. Michael seems to be heading for one of his ‘infarctions’, as his wife is fond of calling them — a sort of intellectual, emotional paralysis brought on by stressful situations.

We are all increasingly worried about him. I send him a text: ‘This has got to be your choice Michael — but promise whatever you do, you’ll tell Dave your decision first.’

I know Michael, and above all he is a polite and honourable person.

A deal has been struck. We have got most of what we wanted from Europe, including a brake on in-work benefits for EU citizens working in the UK, and a pledge that ‘Britain will never be part of a European superstate’.

David’s speech is carried live from Brussels on the Ten O’Clock News. I’m about to turn off the TV when there is further news: Michael Gove has just announced that he is supporting Leave.

No warning — no text to me, David or George. Splat — a spoiler, right after David’s big moment, his first chance to stamp a mark on his ‘new deal’ and make the case for Britain staying in Europe. It is the worst, most damaging time for this announcement.

The next day, there is a Cabinet meeting. We don’t know exactly how the Cabinet will divide, and Michael’s announcement has unnerved David.

I glance over at Michael, who is studiously looking down at his papers. The meeting begins with David making the case for Britain staying in a reformed EU, based on his renegotiation.

Over the next two hours, each and every Cabinet member speaks. All praise David’s leadership and congratulate him on his deal. Just six of the 24, including Michael, declare for Leave.

As I leave the Cabinet room, I notice the six Leave ministers have gathered outside.

‘Are we going ahead with the plan?’ I hear one ask, and they scuttle off together. An hour later, they launch their campaign, holding up a poster for Leave.

This comes as a shock. Suddenly we are split, campaigning openly against each other.

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