23 Oct 2018

Cabinet saw ‘sharp’ exchanges on Brexit

Cabinet saw “sharp” exchanges on Brexit, according to one who was around the table. Ministers who really don’t like the emerging outline of a deal made forceful arguments against it. They included born again Brexiteers, Jeremy Hunt and Sajid Javid. But the pithiest attack sounds like it came from the Attorney General Geoffrey Cox. In what he called his “submission” he compared renewable transition to Dante’s First Circle of Hell (which, of course, is not meant to be that hellish at all compared to the real thing).

There was “pretty forceful pushback,” according to one in the room, from David Lidington, David Gauke, Damian Hinds and Greg Clarke. Their messages included warning against tying the Prime Minister’s hands in the negotiation and against the chaos of “no deal.”

One minister suggested that the idea of extending the transition as an alternative to the UK-wide temporary customs arrangement backstop had “died a death.” Another said that was emphatically not the case. It had taken a battering, the second source said, but the downsides (freedom of movement rules remain and the Common Fisheries Policy too, to name but two) might be out-weighed by the downsides of entering a temporary customs union as Britain nears the end of the transition. It was better to travel with “two golf clubs in your bag” than one, the source claimed.

Tomorrow, the PM will try to sell the emerging plan to her backbench MPs at the 1922 Committee. These occasions can sometimes be a damp squib and no one will want to attract the opprobrium directed at anonymous sources using violent language over the weekend, but one former minister is tonight prowling Parliament saying that they intend to tell Mrs May to her face that she should go. We’ll find out tomorrow night if that actually happens.

It won’t have escaped Mrs May’s attention that a few MPs are doing that indirectly by sending letters demanding a vote of no confidence in her leadership. And her whips are getting feedback that the two Cabinet ministers who resigned over the Chequers plan in the Summer have taken to phoning parliamentary colleagues for a bit of a natter in recent days. No doubt it’s just a chance to compare notes on the weather. One former minister who is thought to fancy having a go at the top job complains of colleagues being too timid in taking on No 10 and showing “cold feet.”

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