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Analysis

No. 10 to sell PM’s plan by ignoring better deal inside EU

by Luke Lythgoe | 07.11.2018

The government has a plan! Or at least it has a PR strategy, revealed in a leaked note to the press, to sell Theresa May’s Brexit proposal – although the government hasn’t yet figured out what that is.

What’s clear is that all is not going to plan. The leaked communications timetable begins with the presumption that ministers would have agreed a Brexit proposal at yesterday’s lengthy Cabinet meeting. That clearly didn’t happen, although ministers seem to have agreed there could be a special Cabinet meeting later this week or next.

Reports from the meeting suggest some narrowing of views over how to solve the conundrum of the Irish border “backstop”, though Michael Gove is demanding to see the full legal advice on the matter first. That would make it harder for the prime minister to pull the wool over her colleagues’ eyes. Even better, the legal advice should be published so that the government can’t herd MPs and the public into supporting a blindfold Brexit full of risks.

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Any legal advice will be drawn up by Geoffrey Cox, the recently appointed attorney-general. Cox is playing a critical role in the Brexit endgame. Pro-Brexit ministers are relying on him to stop May ignoring their concerns about the UK’s exit terms, in particular ensuring the UK can escape from any Northern Ireland backstop agreement. They will remember the deal struck with the EU last December which committed the government to a backstop in the first place – a deal whose legal consequences it is becoming fairly obvious they didn’t fully understand at the time.

Number 10, on the other hand, are hoping Cox’s pro-Brexit credentials will convince hardline Brexiters to back May’s deal. His warnings yesterday that compromise with the EU was needed suggest he is being useful for now.

However, even if the Cabinet can agree a common position on the backstop, it’s unclear if the EU will agree. Michel Barnier told Belgian media yesterday that a deal was still “not close”.

But that isn’t stopping the government PR document proposing the Cabinet Office publishes an explainer setting out “what [May’s deal] means for the public, comparing it to no deal, but not to our current deal”. The reason is clear: May’s miserable deal looks better than no-deal chaos, but infinitely inferior to the current deal we have with the EU. May’s deal would make us less prosperous and less influential in the world, and even after Brexit no one will know what it’s going to ultimately look like.

Any Cabinet Office paper should set out the pros and cons of the three alternatives: the deal, leaving with no deal and our current deal. After all, if MPs say no – which is looking likely, especially with the DUP raising new concerns about the emerging deal – the main scenario will be that MPs give the public the final say.

This article was updated after publication to include a passage about the role of Geoffrey Cox.

Edited by Hugo Dixon

4 Responses to “No. 10 to sell PM’s plan by ignoring better deal inside EU”

  • When will somebody,anybody please have the balls to put their head above the parapet and state the obvious, it’s impossible to improve on the deal we have now ,so admit to the public it’s been a mistake and stop wasting millions of pounds that can be put to a better use than pouring it down a bottomless pit! James Cook Esq.

  • So true. It seems incredible that this government continues on this totally wasteful and foolish path. Millions being wasted, thousands of civil servants recruited etc; and yet everybody’s attention is focussed on the so-called negotiations as if the cost to the country of leaving the EU is of no importance at all.

  • It would be something to have the Politicians who have been the architects of the mess we are in stand up and admit they were wrong. No end of people who voted Remain saying that we don’t pay £350 a week to the EU would shake the 35% of voters who still believe it, but if Boris Johnson was to stand up and admit it was lie I think,that might be a game changer. He could yet play a sort Gollum figure as in The Lord of the Rings as he casts the Ring of power into the fiery lakes of Mordor (or Brexit on the scrapheap of stupid ideas)
    Bizarrely, he might even become a hero overnight and probably never need to work again.
    The nearest thing I have seen to honesty was on the Channel 4 Program on Brexit on Monday Evening, where both David Gauke (Conservative) and Barry Gardiner(Labour), both admitted we would all be worse of afterwards. The only justification left being for keeping going is the “The will of the People”. Since the vote was swung by the older voters (of which I am one of) it seems eminently sensible that the people who will be most affected by Brexit get a final say on the process. You can check the age breakdown of voters in the EU referendum using the helpful data from Lord Ashcroft. The only sensible political comment was coming from Caroline Lucas, who is just in a different league to many of her contemporaries. Lets keeping pressing for a Peoples vote