6 Nov 2018

Cabinet told: we must go for November Brexit deal

Political Editor

Today’s Cabinet had a better atmosphere for the PM than the last one -according to one who was around the table. One minister said it felt like the penultimate Cabinet before the deal is put before ministers for sign off. “That [scenario] wouldn’t surprise me at all,” the Minister said.

The Attorney General, Geoffrey Cox, made a presentation which No 10 will feel has rewarded their efforts to keep him very much involved in the detail of the process in recent weeks. Crucially, Mr Cox told ministers there wasn’t much difference between a revision mechanism in the all-U.K. temporary customs arrangement backstop and a unilateral withdrawal clause.

Some ministers, including the Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab, have been reported to be holding out for the latter. Though some EU officials have wondered whether Mr Raab might have been signalling to his own natural support base in the ERG that he had tried for more, but hadn’t been able to get it.

The Prime Minister and the Chief Whip emphasised to Cabinet that it was hugely important to get a deal in November because the parliamentary timetable might not allow time for measures to get through if it was any later. Delay risked the government tipping accidentally into a “no deal” scenario.

Ministers who spoke out with caveats about where things were heading – Sajid Javid amongst them – emphasised how not having a unilateral break clause in the temporary customs arrangement risked endangering the chances of getting the vote past Tory MPs. One minister listening thought that augured well for the PM potentially getting a deal through Cabinet as soon as early next week – better to have Ministers saying others might not like the deal taking shape rather than objecting themselves.  “The mood music was better,” one Minister said. Theresa May closed the meeting with a suggestion that ministers keep their diaries handy.