The air was so thick with smugness that a health and safety officer, conducting a mental risk assessment, would have ordered an immediate evacuation of the room. Fortunately there were no health and safety professionals at partners’ tea last week.
Mr Pettifog was telling us about his recent trip to Nigeria as a government envoy. “The Secretary of State gave me a letter to hand personally to President Buhari”, he said. “They serve very good tea at Aso Villa”, he added, aware that no-one else in the room would be familiar with the name of the President’s official residence. But no-one rose to take the bait. We were too stunned by the idea that Mr Pettifog had been employed as a diplomat.
Incredibly, it appears that the UK government considers him to be a “senior and respected figure in the field of commercial law” – to quote a letter from a civil servant at the Department for International Trade that he gleefully passed around the room. The letter invited him to participate in trade negotiations in Nigeria as a personal representative of the Right Honourable Dr Liam Fox MP, Her Majesty’s Secretary of State for International Trade.
“Are you both in the Masons?” asked Jim Rough-Diamond, head of our commercial litigation department, as a look of utter bewilderment settled on his craggy Northern face. Mr Pettifog pretended not hear the question, and continued with his account of the trip. “Of course, the main negotiations were held in Lagos, but we were flown to Abuja for the diplomatic niceties.”
“I nearly didn’t make it to last day of negotiations, as the door on the embassy’s bullet-proof Range Rover wouldn’t open and I was stuck in the car for nearly an hour. I didn’t make a fuss, though. I just suggested they might want to oil the hinges.”
“So, did you agree the terms of a trade treaty?” asked Bright Spark.
“Not yet”, replied Mr Pettifog. “But we have agreed an agenda for discussing the procedures to be followed in future negotiations. And I insisted that the quorum for future meetings should always include a senior UK legal representative. Without proper legal advice they are bound to cock it up. Of course, intellectual property will be one of the key themes when we get into substantive negotiations”, he added, looking at IP Draughts.
It looks like Mr Pettifog will have British Airways Gold Club status for a while.