12 Jun 2018

Minister resigns to oppose Brexit

A weird sense of the cavalry riding in just as the infantry are folding up their tents.

Dr Philip Lee has resigned from his post as a justice minister to oppose Brexit and call for a second referendum. He said he couldn’t look his children in the eye if he didn’t act this way.

He said he would vote for the Lords’ amendment giving the Commons even more powers over Brexit in the event of a vote against the government’s negotiated deal.

As he did so, the pro-Remain rebels were finishing their 9am meeting in the Commons. Even some of the most prominent of those rebels have been queasy about the wording of the Lords amendment. That’s why Dominic Grieve has drafted his own alternative amendment. He is still hoping the government might yet adopt that amendment but he’s had no such signal yet.

In those circumstances some pro-Remain rebels say they would expect the Lords amendment to be defeated and they would then get the Lords to vote the Grieve amendment back into the Bill when peers get another look at it next week. The hope would be that the Commons would then back that amendment.

Some at the Philip Lee speech this morning, in which he announced his resignation, said they believed they’d overheard him signalling there were other ministers ready to make the jump with him. But the pro-Remain rebels seem to have had no advance notice of the Lee resignation, no knowledge of more to follow and that appears to be the case for the two main pro-Remain campaigns organising outside Parliament as well.

If there were to be more ministers following, suspicion has inevitably fallen on Richard Harrington, the Business minister, given this recent interview in the Mail On Sunday. But Mr Harrington, as I write, is currently sitting on the government front bench for Business Questions.

David Davis revealed on BBC Radio 4 this morning that the Brexit Cabinet Committee is going to have a sleepover summit at Chequers, a two day affair. That is intended to sort out the U.K. government position on Brexit beyond the two red lines and half a backstop which, to some eyes, is all that s substantially in place so far.

Mr Davis’ mini uprising last week has got the PM and  others in government talking up the Max Fac technology approach to Customs Union issues again and promising the White Paper soon after the European Council. This is all about settling Brexiteers’ nerves that the backstop (CU arrangements for a long time yet and EU regulations for goods as well) is actually No 10’s main negotiating position.

That Chequers gathering will be very difficult to navigate and the EU27 signalled yesterday with slides on the UK’s Backstop technical note that they’re not sold on the first tranche of the U.K. position announced last week. One senior Whitehall source dismissed the EU27 response as “pure propaganda.”

You regularly find that view on this side of the Channel amongst those currently engaged in Brexit. Olly Robbins, they suggest, has had strong signals that the outline backstop is negotiable and would not be rejected outright. Nonsense, some older hands say. Sir Ivan Rogers, formerly U.K. Representative to the  EU, is in front of a select committee this morning and may give a version of the latter  view if asked.

The first batch of Commons votes should start around 4pm this afternoon. The Cabinet committee Chequers gathering looks like being soon after the June EU Council.

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