Brexit: A Tale of Two Meetings
The ERG are recently out of a meeting in Whitehall with officials and the Brexit Secretary. They had their newly acquired Remainer ally, Nicky Morgan, with them. They left the meeting claiming it was all very constructive. Talk to some ERG figures privately though and they worry that they may be “being played” by No. 10.
They were, after all, presenting and testing their thoughts which were first published in December and were roundly rubbished by government at the time.
Across in Brussels, the cross-party Brexit Select Committee had time with Martin Selmayr, Jean Claude Juncker’s right-hand man. MPs at the meeting said Mr Selmayr was testing them on whether certain approaches, like turning the Commission President’s joint letter with European Council President Tusk into a legally binding protocol, might get the Withdrawal Agreement a majority in the Commons. Martin Selmayr made it clear in a tweet after the meeting that he left none the wiser on that one.
Back at the Whitehall meeting, one former Vote Leave denizen says it has echoes of the Cabinet working groups on alternatives to the backstop which Theresa May created early last summer.
For six weeks 2 separate groups of ministers met with a dozen or more civil servants and quite a few special advisers to chew over the two alternative work-rounds for the backstop that were on offer: the “customs partnership” (the UK would collect tariffs on its border on behalf of the EU) and the “Max Fac” or “maximum facilitation” plan (using technology to minimise the need for checks).
One veteran of that experience remembers it as a period during which “we were played along for weeks” only for Olly Robbins to “dump Chequers on us” as a great surprise at the end of it all. Olly Robbins and his team “spun us along,” the source suspected, while working out their own plan behind the scenes.
Incidentally, the ERG MP James Gray has written to his constituents to claim the battle honours for Graham Brady’s amendment getting last week. He thinks he may have single-handedly helped to boost its support from 15 MPs to the eventual 318: