Is this the real Cabinet crunch? Or just more fudge?

by Hugo Dixon | 06.07.2018

Crunch or fudge? That is the question as Cabinet ministers meet at the prime minister’s country retreat to see if they can thrash out what they “want” from Brexit.

The scene might seem set for crunch. Boris Johnson called a meeting with another six hardline Brexiters in the Foreign Office last night to form a common front to fight Theresa May’s latest proposals – amidst anger that she will “destroy the government”, talk of resignations from the Cabinet, and threats of a vote of confidence against her as early as next week.

Afterwards Johnson met David Cameron. The two men agreed that May’s proposals were “the worst of all worlds”, according to the Guardian.

From what has been leaked to the Spectator, it’s clear why the Brexiters are furious. The prime minister wants us to “maintain a common rulebook for all goods including agri-food” and “to commit by treaty to ongoing harmonisation with EU rules on goods”.

We wouldn’t have much freedom to cut independent trade deals either. May’s paper spells out that we wouldn’t be able “to accommodate a likely ask from the US in a future trade deal” because we’d be unable to recognise the US’s “array of standards”.

We would also commit to follow European Court of Justice rulings “where relevant”, according to The Telegraph. Put it all together and we would be close to what Johnson used to call a “vassal state”.

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The foreign secretary and his gang are planning to confront the prime minister with their own hard Brexit counter proposal based on the EU’s deal with Canada, according to The Times. The snag is that the only way to make this fly – given the EU’s insistence of no land border in Ireland – would be to accept a border in the Irish Sea. It’s not just the DUP, which is propping up the government, that would go ballistic. No patriotic Brit should want that.

So will they battle it out or will they ultimately bottle it, as they usually do? The first signs of bottling came last night when Liam Fox appeared to peel off the group of seven after a late night chat with the prime minister, according to The Telegraph. It’s also possible that May herself will bottle it or come up with some fudge that allows her to keep kicking the can down the road.

Two things are clear. First, even if the Cabinet agrees on what it wants, it will not “agree the shape of our future relationship with the European Union”. Those are the prime minister’s words. But she’s not being straight with the British people. All she’d have would be a deal with her Cabinet; not one with the EU. To get the latter, she will have to capitulate further on her red lines.

Second, whatever deal emerges is going to be a miserable one. It won’t just mean losing control because we’ll be turned into rule-takers. It will damage our prosperity because it won’t give us free movement of services, that account for four fifths of our economy. Nobody will be happy with the outcome. All the more reason for a People’s Vote on the final deal.

The paragraph about Johnson meeting Cameron was added soon after publication

One Response to “Is this the real Cabinet crunch? Or just more fudge?”

  • Dear Hugo Dixon

    I guarantee that not one of the Conservatives in the doomed meeting at Chequers today has bothered to watch this interview by Hilary Benn’s [Committee for overseeing the] “Progress of the Withdrawal of the UK from the EU” on 20 June 2018. For over two hours Guy Verhofstatdt, Chief Brexit negotiator for the EU Parliament answered cross-party questions [actually Jacob Rees-Mogg is a member] on the way forward. It was a Masterclass! He gave full answers, with no fudging and no prevarication. If the Cabinet HAVE seen it, they will know PRECISELY what the EU wants, and what it cannot compromise on: https://www.parliamentlive.tv/Event/Index/1c7ad1c1-eb93-4e4a-865b-fb42305c3071 In which case this 12 hour session wouldn’t be wasted time.

    Kind regards
    Elizabeth, London