Cabinet Brexit drama descends from shambles to farce

by Hugo Dixon | 03.07.2018

It is often said that ministers are wasting time talking among themselves rather than negotiating with the EU. It’s now even worse than that. They aren’t even talking among themselves.

Theresa May has supposedly concocted a “third” wheeze to deal with customs post-Brexit after the government’s two previous cockamamie ideas were squished. But she didn’t bother to tell her fellow Cabinet ministers – even David Davis, the Brexit secretary – what her new brilliant idea is.

The Brexiters smell a rat. They are worried they will be presented with the plan at the last minute before a supposedly crunch summit at the prime minister’s country estate on Friday and bounced into agreeing it.

While this would certainly be May’s style, the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg has an alternative theory: the reason ministers haven’t been told about the third wheeze may be because it doesn’t yet exist.

Meanwhile, the prime minister is heading off to see the Dutch prime minister today and Germany’s Angela Merkel on Thursday to talk about her Brexit plans. But Downing Street is insisting that she won’t tell them about her new wheeze. Which, of course, raises the question of why on earth she’s wasting diplomatic capital by making the trips in the first place.

Fast forward to Friday and May’s best argument with her Cabinet will probably be that, if they don’t back whatever scheme she magics up, MPs will force it to stay in a customs union when the Customs Bill returns to the House of Commons – on July 17, according to The Times. But whichever way you cut it, given that the new wheeze won’t be ready for prime time, we are probably going to end up staying in a customs union for many years to come anyway.

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What will EU make of all this?

And don’t forget. Once we get to Friday, we will still only have ministers talking among themselves. The EU has made clear time and again that we have to come up with a viable solution to keep the Irish border open. That won’t just mean a customs union for as far as the eye can see; Northern Ireland will have to follow EU rules on industrial and agricultural goods too.

The snag, of course, is that this would mean border controls between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. Which is why the prime minister wants the whole UK to align some of its rules with the EU – but only until the end of 2021. And the problem with that is that the other countries are not prepared to leave Ireland hanging out to dry after 2021.

May seems to have another scheme to “solve” that problem – a permanent single market in goods – and she apparently wants to agree that at Chequers. But the EU is saying we can’t have a single market in goods unless we have one in people and services too. Many pro-Europeans would say that’s precisely what we want – and we may as well stay in the EU too as we will then get to make the rules rather than be a rule-taker. But fat chance of this government agreeing all that.

So at the end of the day, we have a prime minister concocting schemes she doesn’t tell her ministers about which won’t fly with the EU anyway – and many of her ministers plotting to knife her. Meanwhile, the economy dies death by a thousand cuts and nobody is looking after the national interest. Get a grip.

2 Responses to “Cabinet Brexit drama descends from shambles to farce”

  • Let’s say that the petition for the People’s Vote succeeds. Then assuming that May and friends’ proposal for exiting the EU is not laughed out of court, it will have to be voted on by the people. Inasmuch as the Referendum vote was more a vote on dissatisfaction with the present government and austerity, the People’s Vote is more likely to be a genuine vote on leaving the EU, rather than on just the negotiated package. Now that the facts..mostly very negative…are gathering daily I would assume that the vote will go against the package and hence the government. I wonder how many heads will roll, how many Brexiteers will feel obliged to resign. They can’t all follow Boris and hide abroad…who would want them?