23 May 2018

Former Vote Leave Director brands Theresa May’s Brexit strategy ‘botched’ and ‘stupid’

The former Director of Vote Leave Dominic Cummings has tonight broken a period of silence to call Theresa May’s strategy on Brexit “botched ” and “stupid” .

For good measure Mr Cummings sprays his customary political machine gun around some fellow Brexiteers too.

He reserves his greatest ire for Mrs May, Philip Hammond and senior officials Olly Robbins and Sir Jeremy Heywood. He signals that the Tory Party must rid itself of its leader and re-group well before the next election.

As Mr Cummings was posting his blog, the Chief Whip was confirming that the government is going to bring back the Withdrawal Bill from the Lords soon (possibly in the week beginning 11 June). The ERG group of Tory Brexiteers had been pressurising the PM to do this as soon as possible. They are tonight  celebrating the move and some are claiming that their own “work to rule” threat on all Commons votes had sharpened the government’s appetite to take risks and confront the Lords amendments.

But some think this is only happening now because Theresa May has started rolling out her diluted plans for Brexit. The “red lines” on the single market and the customs union look to some Brexiteers a limpid pink.

Mrs May has signalled a readiness to stay in a Customs Arrangement with the EU which could look and smell an awful lot like the Customs Union she promised to withdraw from. And on top of that her plans for regulation seem to be creeping towards something that could look and smell an awful lot like the Single Market for all goods.

Rather than face down her Remainer rebels, as ERG members hoped she would, some will think that Mrs May looks like she is buying them off.

Some ERG members see it differently. They say if the Lords Amendments are defeated the EU will do the rest of their work for them as they turn down British proposals as offensive to the EU laws. Euro-sceptics are hoping that the EU is as rigid as they always painted it. One U.K. senior official insists it won’t be. The ideas have all been road tested with Brussels beforehand, the official insists.

One very senior former official begs to differ. Sir Ivan Rogers, formerly our man at the EU, has tonight given a speech in Glasgow in which he says “no serious thought” was given to the red lines laid down by Theresa May for the Brexit negotiations. Sir Ivan lays out the intricate relationship between the Customs Union and the Single Market which makes frictionless borders possible. He thinks the U.K. position as currently taking shape will be rejected.

That shape gets a little more defined soon some Cabinet ministers think. They’re expecting that No 10 could be about to  unveil a new UK sector it wants Single Market association status for: the car industry. They think that there will the be a little more detail on how the U.K. wants to put all manufactured goods in a single market style arrangement with some kind of joint EFTA style court in supervision. Some ministers fear that if the EU didn’t reject this approach out of hand it could well respond by saying that the intricacies involved require years of negotiation and so Britain must stay in (and pay in) the formal Single Market structure for years after the end of the transition.

In the ERG they say this is all proof that the battle for the heart of Brexit is not over yet. “Labour won’t vote for the Brexit deal so it only needs 20 of us to pull it down,” one pro-Brexit former Cabinet minister told me.

But some Brexiteer Tory MPs  seem resigned to a minimalist Brexit. They say the menacing chorus from elements of the ERG isn’t unrepresentative and won’t win the day.

In the next few weeks we should get a better idea who has more to be happy about (or less to depress them).

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