Vol­canic Hill’s blast at To­day star Nick

The Mail on Sunday - - The Great Election Flasco -

It was like they were joint Prime Min­is­ters

AT THE Spec­ta­tor mag­a­zine’s an­nual awards din­ner in Novem­ber 2016, the BBC’s Nick Robin­son saun­tered over to Fiona Hill to try to end a two-year feud with Theresa May’s com­bat­ive chief of staff.

Hill had been fum­ing at Robin­son since she lost her job at the Home Of­fice in 2014 af­ter leak­ing doc­u­ments crit­i­cal of then-Ed­u­ca­tion Sec­re­tary Michael Gove: the To­day pro­gramme pre­sen­ter had up­set Hill by high­light­ing that she was in a re­la­tion­ship with Home Of­fice man­darin Charles Farr.

When Robin­son ap­proached Hill she erupted, telling him: ‘You made my mother cry.’

Robin­son protested: ‘I was just say­ing hello. This isn’t re­ally the time or place for this.’

What struck oth­ers was that the Prime Min­is­ter sim­ply ig­nored the whole scene as it un­folded a few feet away. ‘She doesn’t say any­thing when Fiona goes off on one,’ says for­mer No 10 Di­rec­tor of Com­mu­ni­ca­tions, Katie Per­rior. ‘She just has a look which says, “It’s not good, but, well, here we are”.’

The hold that Hill and her joint chief of staff, Nick Ti­mothy, ap­peared to have over the PM has fas­ci­nated ob­servers of the regime.

Many Tories be­lieve May de­ferred too much to the ‘vol­canic’ Hill and Ti­mothy, who col­leagues said ‘didn’t suf­fer fools’. Given how closely the three worked, it seems im­pos­si­ble that May was un­aware of some of the com­plaints their tight in­ner cir­cle gen­er­ated.

On at least one oc­ca­sion af­ter a heated ex­change in­side No 10, the Cab­i­net Sec­re­tary Sir Jeremy Hey­wood stepped in to calm the sit­u­a­tion, a se­nior source re­calls.

There was a cul­ture of af­ter-work drinks among May’s top team, just as for many oth­ers work­ing at West­min­ster, where the bars are plen­ti­ful and the hours anti-so­cial. If you were a part of the chiefs’ club, you would be in­vited out to a nearby pub and you would feel spe­cial. But, if you crossed Hill or Ti­mothy, you could quickly be dropped. ‘The last time I felt like that I was 12 and at school,’ one for­mer col­league says.

One Tory cam­paign of­fi­cial said the Prime Min­is­ter out­sourced all her most im­por­tant de­ci­sions to her two chiefs of staff be­cause she was such a ‘ner­vous’ char­ac­ter.

One vet­eran Con­ser­va­tive, who is close to the PM, ob­served: ‘Some peo­ple said it was like they were joint prime min­is­ters. I’ve never seen any­thing quite like it.’

Ti­mothy ac­knowl­edged: ‘Of course we’re tight. And of course we kept some things quite tight but so does any other se­nior politi­cian or chief ex­ec­u­tive.’

‘TIGHT’: May with Hill, left, and Ti­mothy. Far right: Katie Per­rior

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