Norfolk MP on shaping Theresa May’s policy agenda and now being a Brexiteer
- Credit: Steve Adams
Behind the famous black front door on Downing Street, Mid-Norfolk MP George Freeman now has a desk.
Theresa May scrapped his life sciences role in her August reshuffle after she became prime minister and handed him a job heading up her policy unit, based in Number 10.
He talks in broad terms about his new boss's desire to 'draw on the insights of those on the frontline of delivering key policies'.
He dismisses my suggestion that he is the new Steve Hilton – the T-shirt clad figure behind David Cameron's modernising agenda to hug a hoodie and create the 'big society'.
Mr Freeman says the unit is about making sure issues which don't have a sophisticated advocate – or might otherwise not receive the right level of attention – are properly thought about. He got to know his new boss in his old guise as a minister. He worked with her on issues such as health records and migration policy and science.
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'I have been a huge admirer of her quiet, steely track record in successfully driving through difficult reforms,' he says.
His brief will not include the dominant issue of Brexit – the all encompassing topic is being handled by the cabinet and senior ministers – but he says he is confident that Mrs May will be able to negotiate a package that works for places like the Norwich Research Park (NRP), which came under his old brief.
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'While both the prime minister and I were remainers, in my case as minister for life science, I felt it my duty to speak up for a £60bn sector in which almost nobody supported Brexit.
'Following the referendum, we are Brexiteers now and the challenge obviously is to set out a 'New Deal', a new settlement on migration, which works for our economy, but tackles those elements of the uncontrolled immigration which the British people have clearly signalled they want to see tackled.
'I am confident that through what will be complex, and doubtless and at time difficult, negotiations, Theresa May will be able to negotiate a package that works for the NRP and for the whole of my constituency and Norfolk generally.'
He claims localising many of the issues that the government faces, makes the issues clearer.
'Most of the people who voted Brexit in my constituency want to see the Norfolk economy prosper and the Norwich Research Park and its ability to attract top scientists is a key part of that,' he says.
But while Brexit policy is shaped elsewhere, Mr Freeman's unit will be particularly focused on those areas of policy which are not covered by existing departments or ministerial portfolios, but need a 'coherent response'.
'Issues like cyber crime, mental health, disabilities. Issues which go across government, but go to the heart of the programme that Theresa May set out.'
'I think this is an exciting opportunity as an MP for Mid-Norfolk here in East Anglia to make sure that the issues that we particularly face as a rural area, about which I have spoken and written widely, ie infrastructure, powers for local government, rural poverty and marginalisation, are able to be properly heard at the heart of government.
'As the prime minister set out in her electrifying conference speech, she is determined that the voice of those who have felt left behind and marginalised by globalisation and a London-centric economy, are properly heard,' he adds.