George Osborne in EdinburghWe’ve known for two days that George Osborne, Danny Alexander and Ed Balls were about to rule out sharing the pound with an independent Scotland. What we didn’t know until this morning is that they would be joined by Sir Nick Macpherson, the Treasury’s top civil servant, who has written a letter the likes of which are almost never seen in Whitehall.

Belying the reputation of civil servants as cautious, apolitical, and perhaps occasionally slightly verbose types, Sir Nick has written a short, punchy and withering assessment of Scotland’s chances of forming a currency union with the rest of the UK.

In it he says: Read more

Nick Clegg has moved to strengthen his team in Whitehall with the appointment of Neil Sherlock, a KPMG partner in charge of public affairs, as his “director of government relations”.

Mr Sherlock is one of a new intake of Liberal Democrat special advisers – Spads in the jargon – who have been brought into government to ensure that Mr Clegg’s influence is felt across all areas of government policy.

The KPMG man is the ultimate Lib Dem insider. A former parliamentary candidate, he has written speeches and provided advice for a series of Lib Dem leaders (except Charles Kennedy, with whom he enjoyed frosty relations). His wife, Kate Parminter, is a Lib Dem peer in the Lords. Read more

Margaret Thatcher always had a soft spot for David Young, the businessman who brought some “can do” spirit to the old Department of Trade and Industry.

Baroness Thatcher said of Lord Young: “Other people brought me problems. David brought me solutions.” Read more

David Cameron has arrived in New York’s Penn Station to be given a traditional greeting from Mayor Mike Bloomberg – a hot dog from a street stand on W31st St.

Abdus Salam, the 41 year old vendor, tells the FT that Cameron had his beef frank without any condiments, avoiding the risk of a ketchup photo op disaster. Read more

David Cameron’s decision to take a commercial flight to Washington has brought giggles of surprise from US interviewers and much ribaldry from White House staff accustomed to travelling on Air Force One.

But that is nothing compared with the surprise expressed by his US hosts when they discover that he is making the trip from Washington to New York … on the train. In spite of the fact the cities are linked by an efficient Amtrak service, the idea of a world leader using it is seen by some as astonishing. Read more

UPDATE, early morning, July 22: Simon Fraser’s appointment as new permanent secretary at the Foreign Office was confirmed by David Cameron on the train from Washington to New York last night.

But still no news on the appointment of a high-profile trade minister and nobody on the horizon.

Original post:

Breaking news from Washington as David Cameron prepares to make a speech to Wall Street titans, flying the flag for the City of London and urging them to invest in Britain.

Cameron’s “messianic” approach to drumming up trade for Britain has been hindered by the fact that the government is not very well set up to deliver: notably the prime minister has tried and failed for two months to recruit a high profile trade minister.

I gather that Cameron may soon have an announcement on that front, possibly before he arrives in New York later today. But in the meantime, I gather that another key appointment is imminent.

The word is that Simon Fraser, the urbane permanent secretary at the Department of Business, is about to transfer to the Foreign Office, to beef up that department’s commercial focus. Read more

The heaviest snow to hit the Washington area for years has disrupted Gordon Brown’s hopes for a statesmanlike press conference with Barack Obama in the White House Rose Garden, which is now better suited to building snowmen.

The Brown and Obama camp are trying to arrange a separate “press opportunity” in the Oval Office, which – as one British official put it – will leave the prime minister without “flags and podiums” when he appears on the television news. Read more

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William Hague, the Tory foreign affairs spokesman, is rightly concerned about the shipment of Chinese arms which is trying to find its way to Zimbabwe’s president Robert Mugabe, but his grasp of African geography is less certain. Read more

These are dangerous times for the government. Alistair Darling, chancellor, is in serious political trouble and the sound of muttering about his performance can be heard swelling around Whitehall.

Gordon Brown’s spokesman on Tuesday repeated the view that it was "total garbage" that the prime minister had any doubts about the performance of his neighbour. Read more

I’ve been tipping Tony Blair to be the first "president of Europe" since 2002 – when the creation of the job was just a twinkle in his eye – so I’m delighted the former PM is taking soundings about whether the post will be worthy of his political talents. No doubting his self-confidence, is there?

Back in 2002 I remember being told that Mr Blair thought the creation of a full-time president of the European Council – the supreme body of the EU – was the most important thing to get written into the new EU constitution, now rebranded the Treaty of Lisbon. Read more

Five European leaders are meeting on Tuesday night in Downing St to discuss the world’s economic problems. That’s no bad thing, but how much are Mssrs Brown, Sarkozy, Prodi, Barroso and Ms Merkel really going to achieve in talks lasting no more than a few hours?

Kenneth Clarke, whom one might have expected to be sceptical about the whole thing, told Sky this morning that such events are useful, provided they can be kept informal. The former Chancellor says it is important, in an inter-connected world, to know how your counterparts in Europe are going to react to any given event. Read more

Oh dear. Just what Gordon Brown didn’t want to hear. Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the new head of the IMF, suggesting that the world needs a big fiscal electric-shock to help it out of its looming economic downturn.

Mr Strauss-Kahn’s view that interest rate cuts alone won’t dig the global economy out of a hole marks a surprise shift in the IMF’s position – normally it is the biggest cheerleader for fiscal consolidation. Read more