Famous five or fatuous five?

May won’t yield to their demand for renegotiation unless she believes that at least some of them will quit. And on the basis of last week, why would she?

Each politician has his or her own ideals, ambitions, strengths, weaknesses, hopes, fears.  It follows that the more MPs there are involved in a scheme, the more likely these qualities are to clash and collide, like particles in an experiment.  The discipline of party or government is usually required to keep politicians marching in step – and that includes Cabinet Ministers.

Which brings us to the five who want Theresa May to renegotiate aspects of her draft deal.  One might assume that Ministers as senior as Liam Fox, Michael Gove, Chris Grayling, Andrea Leadsom and Penny Mordaunt, when banded together, carry the authority of the Government with them.  But in this case, they do not.  It rests with Theresa May.  She is Prime Minister.  The Cabinet is her Cabinet.  She controls its agenda.  She shapes the minutes.

This is why she was able to see off last week’s Cabinet push to get her to renegotiate the deal.  There are no votes round the Cabinet table, as Esther McVey discovered.  There is no loyal Opposition.  Cabinet decisions may not be unanimous but they are, to use a word that May deployed herself, collective.  If a Cabinet Minister is opposed to one to the point where he cannot live with it, his only course is to resign – as McVey and Dominic Raab duly did in the meeting’s wake.

Only when a Prime Minister has lost her power do Cabinet Ministers gain more of it than she has.  This, notoriously, was the case when Margaret Thatcher was forced out.  She had beaten off a leadership challenge, but not by enough to maintain her command.  Her successor could be in a situation similar, or worse, by the end of the coming week.  But she is not there yet, if she ever will be.  While she would be foolish to sack any of the five – her powers are not limitless – her grip is for the moment tenuous, but real.

She will also have a shrewd grasp of the position of each of the five.  She won’t read Liam Fox as a resigner.  Nor Chris Grayling.  Michael Gove backed her plan very reluctantly in Cabinet, has tried to persuade her to change it, pondered resignation…but not resigned.  It would be difficult for him now to go.  That leaves Andrea Leadsom and Penny Mordaunt, perhaps the most likely of the five to walk (though one never knows).  But that tangle of motives may divide them, which opens the door to divide and rule.

In short, the threat of resignation is ultimately the only device likely to make May yield to their push.  And she will surely be thinking that if none of them quit last week, then why would any of them do so this week?  It may be that other Cabinet Ministers will now join them.  It is even possible that the Prime Minister will give way.  But if they aren’t prepared to walk away, they will probably get an outcome they won’t like.  Where else have we heard that recently?

Will he stick will he twist will he twist will he stick? Gove sticks. He is not resigning.

So he’s left presumably unwilling to sell May’s deal on any other basis that it’s bad…but that the alternative is worse.

Friends of Michael Gove made the case to ConservativeHome yesterday evening for him sticking, not twisting.  This seems to be the sum of the advice he’s received from them, and he’s gone with it.  This morning we learn that he will not resign.  So the course of events during the last few days has been, first, that he reluctantly supported May’s deal in Cabinet; second, that when offered the Brexit Secretary post, he said that he would only take it were she to seek now to renegotiate it; third, that this request was refused and now fourth, that he isn’t resigning, but will stay at DEFRA.

The sum of all this is that it is known more widely than before that he doesn’t really back the deal.  Furthermore, having now stuck rather than twisted, he will find it very hard to twist in the near future – however bad things get. He will be very well aware of the risk, in the long-lingering aftermath of his decision to walk away from Boris Johnson’s leadership campaign, of feeding more ammunition to the Tracey Ullmann Breaks The News caricature of him as unreliable (an impression now deepened in Downing Street).  So he is left presumably unwilling to sell May’s deal on any other basis that it’s bad…but that the alternative is worse.

If this sounds unappetising – which it is – then so, in the great scheme of things, is the alternative.  The anxiety that will consume senior members of the Cabinet – such as Gove, Sajid Javid and Liam Fox – is that their resignations could potentially bring down the Government, and open the door to Jeremy Corbyn.  The Fixed Terms Parliament Act is an obstacle to that outcome but, as we saw last summer, it is not an insuperable barrier to an election.  And as a Minister in the very front line of No Deal planning Gove will know how formidable are the challenges that it presents, and feel a sense of duty to help see it through. Whoever said that politics is easy?

Iain Dale: The Prime Minister put in a superb Parliamentary performance yesterday

Plus: But her deal’s so bad I’d rather Remain. Robbins is the real Rasputin, not Timothy. Would I really vote Tory tomorrow? And: Carry on Cocks and Dicks.

Iain Dale is an LBC presenter, a commentator with CNN and the author/editor of over 30 books.

I’m not angry: I’m just overwhelmed by a feeling of sadness that it’s come to this. It didn’t have to be this way.

I’m convinced that if Nick Timothy was still Theresa May’s chief adviser, things would have been very different. Instead, Olly Robbins replaced him in the Prime ministerial affections game, and we know the result.

Oops, how every dare I criticise a civil servant! The very thought. Well, I’m sorry: this Rasputin-like figure has more of a hold over the Prime Minister than Alan Walters had over Mrs Thatcher, or Peter Mandelson over Tony Blair.

She’s believed his every utterance or piece of advice over Brexit strategy even though, time and time again, he’s proved to have been disastrously wrong. On each occasion, it has resulted in yet another humiliating capitulation. When the rue history of this period is written, Robbins will not come out of it well.

– – – – – – – – –

On Wednesday, I wrote on my blog explaining why I thought the Brexit deal hatched between Theresa May and the EU was just about the worst result possible.

Indeed, so bad is it that if I had to choose between remaining in the EU and voting for this abortion of a deal, I would vote to Remain. I don’t resile from my Brexit vote, or the firm belief that we are better off out – but the trouble is, we won’t be out if this deal gets through.

For the avoidance of doubt, let me put on the record once again that no deal is preferable to a bad deal, and that this is the very worst deal. No deal is not an ideal option either, but at least we’d be master of our own destinies.

Yes, I accept that there would be some short-term issues to get over – but get over them we undoubtedly would. Instead May thinks that we should accept European rules with no say in their drafting. Any fool can see the dangers in that, and it is the direct opposite of ‘taking back control’.

So when the deal comes to the Commons, I hope it is decisively rejected. And I say that in the full knowledge that the Prime Minister would undoubtedly have to resign immediately. There’s no way she could survive it.

Having said that, she does have a remarkable ability to endure the impossible. But this time I think she’s bitten off too much. It takes a special talent to unite Andrew Adonis and Jacob Rees-Mogg, but by God she’s achieved it. It will be something she will live to regret, I suspect.

– – – – – – – – – –

I’m completing this diary early on Thursday afternoon. So far, there have been six resignations but by the time you read this I suspect there will have been more.

If Penny Mordaunt, Andrea Leadsom, Liam Fox and Michael Gove aren’t seriously considering their positions, I am not quite sure what kind of backbone they think they have.

Dominic Raab has now got first mover advantage, and has instantly transformed himself into a frontline leadership candidate.

– – – – – – – – – –

I have to say that May put in a superb parliamentary performance yesterday. Having to stand up on your hind legs when you’ve just had two cabinet ministers resign can’t have been easy. And to take questions for two and a half hours is something that few other leaders across the world would ever have to do. Credit to her for coming through it with aplomb.

– – – – – – – – – –

This week, I feel a bit of a fraud writing for ConservativeHome. For the first time in a very long time, I do wonder if I could support the Conservative Party in a general election were it held tomorrow. If it were a snap election held on the basis of endorsing Theresa May’s Brexit deal, I don’t think that I could.

But here’s the dilemma. Who else could I vote for? Certainly not Labour, definitely not the Liberal Democrats, absolutely not UKIP, whose leadership I abhor with every fibre of my being.

The Greens? Another lot of pro-European zealots. But I don’t really believe in spoiling my ballot paper, either. And this is why I rarely believe people who say after some Conservative disaster or another, “I’ll never vote Tory again”. Time heals and most people go back to their normal political home.

May had better hope there really are four years between now and the next election. Many people will have forgiven the party for this Horlicks of a Brexit deal by then…but it’s entirely possible that this open wound won’t have healed by then, either.

– – – – – – – – – –

Last week I told the tale of Cox, Dicks and Willy. However, according to a senior cabinet minister who texted me having read it, I missed out the best story.

Terry Dicks, John McDonnell’s predecessor as MP for Hayes & Harlington, used to tell a story about a public meeting in the 1979 election when he was standing against Michael Cocks, the Labour Chief Whip in Bristol.

According to Terry, the well-spoken woman in the chair concluded the meeting with the words: “Well ladies, there you have it. Your choice is between Cocks and Dicks”. For some of us, it was ever thus…

Gove Agonistes

He is conflicted by disliking May’s deal yet being in the front line of a No Deal Brexit – and aware that as a Vote Leave figurehead he is unusually exposed.

On the one hand, the Environment Secretary is in the very front line of a No Deal Brexit; understands the instrinsic difficulties it would bring to the movement of food and agricultural goods, and recognises that, even if these could be addressed swiftly, that might not be quickly enough for voters.

(It may also be that as one of Vote Leave’s two frontmen during the EU referendum campaign, the other being Boris Johnson, he feels particularly exposed.)

On the other, reports from yesterday’s Cabinet meeting agree that he doesn’t like Theresa May’s draft deal, though they diverge about the degree of support he eventually offered it.  The sum of his argument seems to have been that a bad deal, or at least a flawed one, is better than no deal.

So the position he seems to be in, as we write, is that he is unwilling either to vote against the deal (and resign) or to speak for it.  Though we add that he is unavailable for interviews today for family reasons that are known to this site.

As his dramatic pull-out from Boris Johnson’s leadership campaign reminded us, Gove is capable of dizzying about-turns – though there is a deep consistency to some of his long-held positions, such as his support for free speech, Israel and rigorous education.  His would be another huge resignation, and it can’t be ruled out.

At any rate, ConservativeHome understands that he has certainly been offered the vacant Brexit Secretary post, which he has reportedly turned down.  A leadership challenge to Theresa May, apparently imminent as we write, would flush him out one way or another.

Changing the Prime Minister, in itself, would solve nothing

A new leader would need a new plan to reverse this evident humiliation of May’s leadership and of British statecraft.

If we can congratulate Cabinet members on nothing else this morning, we can at least do so on their ability to speed read under pressure.  In less than a morning, they somehow managed to master 585 pages of the Brexit Draft Withdrawal Agreement, all without recourse to independent legal advice.  Plus the seven pages of the Outline Political Declaration – a mere bagatelle by comparison.  Yes, that’s right.  The Government wants us to hand over the best part of £40 billion for fewer than ten pages of unenforceable text. And our future negotiating leverage into the bargain.

But let’s stick for the moment to the Withdrawal Agreement.  Don’t judge it before you’ve read it, its backers said yesterday.  That they were supporters betrayed that they had already made a judgement themselves.  By the same token, they should have conceded that reading a document of that length takes rather more than a few hours.  None the less, we will take their advice.  Unlike a mass of newspapers and commentators, we do not pretend to have done so in full.

So we will make no comment for the moment on whether the Northern Ireland backstop has survived, with its implications for Scotland and the Union.  On the UK-wide or Great Britain backstop, and whether the latter can practicably leave it, de facto if not de jure, with all the consequences that has for our freedom to strike trade deals worldwide.  On whether that seven page declaration points towards Chequers, Canada, Cheqada – or anything bankable at all (and if there are any safeguards for the money).  Above all, on whether the whole package leaves us, in that neat reversal of William Hague’s famous saying, out of Europe, but run by Europe.  And on, if you prefer George Osborne’s brilliantly malicious assessment yesterday, whether or not the EU has Taken Back Control.

We will pause to make only one observation.  Theresa May’s claim that the agreement would allow us to take back that control – of borders, law and money – is already under siege, at least as far as its second part is concerned.  Paul Waugh of the Huffington Post has found 63 references to the European Court of Justice in the draft.  Ending its jurisdiction was at the heart of the EU referendum result.  The Conservative Manifesto committed the Party to it, not that most of members needed any persuading.

Where Waugh has trod, others will follow.  As we write, Martin Howe will be pouring himself another cup of strong black coffee, surrounded by gutted candles and legal tomes.  He will have laboured overnight to craft his assessment.  So will others.  By lunchtime, the Withdrawal Agreement will have been wrenched open, gutted, filletted, and its innards displayed to the world.  One thing is certain: bits of it will not look very appetising.  The Prime Minister will have passed them over in her statement yesterday evening.  One senior ERG member told this site yesterday that the agreement is like a Budget that will unravel on day two.

We are not at all sure that he is right.  This morning, it looks rather more like one of those Budgets that went to pieces on day one.  Today’s splash headlines make bleak reading for Downing Street.  How could they not, given the Cabinet’s verdict, which is all over them, and on the inside pages too?  Dominic Raab was palpably unhappy.  Geoffrey Cox compared the agreement to a life raft made up of oil drums and a plastic sail.  Michael Gove thinks it is bad, but that no deal would be worse.  Sajid Javid and Jeremy Hunt pushed at May to take if back to the EU for re-drafting.  Liam Fox dislikes the backstop.  Penny Mordaunt wants a free vote, so that she can oppose the agreement.  Esther McVey actually called for a vote, clashing with the Chief Whip and the Cabinet Secretary.  How on earth can any of the discontented third of the Cabinet, or more, look voters in the eye and claim they are content with it?  How can they go out and sell it?  It is significant that, yesterday evening, none of them were due to take to the airwaves this morning.

One last point on that Cabinet meeting.  Reporting of it has tended to divide members up into supporters and opponents of the agreement.  This is understandable, but flawed.  The Cabinet makes, as the Prime Minister said yesterday, collective decisions.  And as McVey has discovered, it does not vote.  Nor do its members shape the minutes.  If they are unhappy, they must either wait to be cheered up, or resign.  Those whose discontent spills over into opposition, like McVey, have not quit – so far.  Do they really intend to stay in office, hoping perhaps that the agreement collapses, or that the Commons votes it down, saying nothing about it at all?  Such a position would be worse than dishonourable, in a manner of speaking.  It would be ridiculous.

By then, events may well have overtaken them.  Perhaps Graham Brady will announce today that he has received 48 letters, and that a confidence ballot in Theresa May must be held.  Maybe he will not.  Perhaps it will come later, or not at all.  But even if it does, and she wins it convincingly, her troubles will be far from over. As matters stand, it is very unlikely that the agreement can get through the Commons.  Even if she survives a ballot, she might not be able to survive that.  The combination of a future Commons vote on the agreement and aleadership contest, ushering in a new Prime Minister, would be like a cutting-edge experiment with two new chemicals.  There is simply no knowing what it would bring.  We believe that a Conservative Prime Minister, faced with this Commons, can carry through Brexit if intent on it – even a no deal one, given the legislative state of play.  But it is possible that the mix could blow the laboratory roof off.

Our position on May’s leadership is well-known.  Like our members’ panel, we believe that she should not lead the Party into the next election.  Enraged Brexiteer MPs are itching to get her out now.  The sum of their view is that there is a lie at the heart of her policy – that she does not believe her own words; that no deal is better than a bad deal.  For this reason, they say, we are not properly prepared.  Downing Street and the Treasury have dragged their feet, and conspired to spring a new choice on the Cabinet yesterday: May’s Deal, a chaotic No Deal, or No Brexit.  And for this she has lost the DUP, in all likelihood, and with it her majority.

One doesn’t have to take a view on the agreement before accepting their point.  But they should reflect that changing the Prime Minister, in itself, would solve nothing.  A new Conservative leader would face the same old Commons.  He or she would need a new plan – Canada, plus or minus those three pluses; Nick Boles’ Norway-for-Now; or perhaps a transition to No Deal, as proposed by some Cabinet Ministers.  And given the numbers in the Commons, logic also points to a general election, sooner rather than later, to win a majority for change.  That runs the risk of a Corbyn Government – and, more pressingly as far as some Tory MPs are concerned, the loss of their seats.

Some Leavers will be tempted to join many Remainers, and say that this humbling pass, this evident humiliation of May’s leadership and of British statecraft, is the inevitable consequence of Brexit.  Our response is uncompromising.  The British people are entitled to vote to leave the European Union.  If they were now to be told that they can’t, because our politicians aren’t up to negotiating it; or the commanding heights of our institutions are against it; or government is incapable of planning for it – in short, that they must “come to heel”, in John Kerr’s illuminating phrase – what would that say to the British people about the state of our liberal demcracy and parliamentary government?  The potential consequences are so far-reaching that there is no need to spell them out.

May statement due for 17.00 pulled. Cabinet may not finish until after 19.00.

Interpretation one: its members are talking at length, but there’s no real resistance to the Prime Minister’s draft Brexit plan. Interpretation two: it is running into trouble.

Earlier this afternoon, it was reported that Theresa May would make a statement outside Downing Street at 17.00 or so.

Hurd appears to have misspoken, and confused a press statement with a press conference.  There will apparently be the first later, but not the second.

This is because Cabinet will now apparently not break up until 19.00 at the earliest.  Interpretation one: its members are talking at length, but there’s no real resistance to the Prime Minister’s draft Brexit plan.  Interpretation two: it is running into trouble.  Or maybe the explanation is a bit of both.

Our best guess is that some Ministers are asking for aspects of the draft deal at least to be revised.  There will certainly be calls for clarification.  We will soon find out if there was a push, concerted or unconcerted, for the draft not to be approved, at least at this stage.

If it is correct that Geoffrey Cox is promoting the view that the draft presents no real progress on the backstop, but that it offers a better deal than no deal at all, the meeting is unlikely to be going smoothly.  Brexiteer Ministers unwilling to resign will not wish to go out and sell it to the public on that basis.

The spectrum of resignation expectation has Esther McVey and Penny Mordaunt at one end, as the most likely to go, and Dominic Raab and Michael Gove at the other, as least likely.  David Mundell is a wild card.

As we write, darkness has fallen, and the lectern set for a statement is no longer in view.

Raab, Cox, Gove, Fox, Mordaunt – all these Cabinet members, and others, should prepare to resign today

They should first seek to persuade May not to press for a decision, since there will have been no opportunity for full timely study of the text.

As this month began, we set five tests for any Brexit deal that Theresa May might recommend to her Cabinet members.  They were as follows:

  • Would it hive off Northern Ireland?  Will there be either an an exit date or a unilateral escape mechanism from the backstop?
  • Does it threaten to break up the Union?  If there isn’t, and Northern Ireland is effectively to be kept in the Single Market, won’t that boost the SNP’s campaign for Scottish independence – and the break-up of the Union?
  • Would it trap the country in a customs union?  If Great Britain is to be put into a parallel customs union, will there be either an exit date or a unilateral escape mechanism from it?
  • Does it hand over money for nothing? Since a future trade deal will be covered by an unenforceable political declaration – not the Withdrawal Agreement – what safeguards are there against  shelling out £40 billion for nothing?
  • Chequers or Canada? Given that the political declaration is likely to be written in vague, Cheqada terms, which future does it really point to – Chequers or Canada?

In the wake of the Prime Minister summoning Cabinet members for one-to-one meetings yesterday evening, with a full Cabinet meeting due this afternoon, it is possible that there are reassuring answers to all these questions.

But it is more likely that, as we wrote then, the proposed deal would wreck the prospect of meaningful trade deals, hand over £40 billion for no bankable gain, and potentially threaten the break-up of the UK.

It is early days to draw definitive conclusions either way about the draft agreement’s contents, but it is clear that the planned settlements for Great Britain and Northern Ireland will be different.

And Sabine Weyand suggested to a meeting of EU ambassadors yesterday that the deal would effectively keep the whole UK in the Customs Union, force EU access to our fishing waters, and align us to Single Market rules.

Such a settlement would breach the Conservative Manifesto commitments to leave the Customs Union, and arguably the Single Market too – and threaten the survival of the Government if the DUP withdrew all support, as it is poised to do.

At any rate, it is evident that the Prime Minister is no longer driven by the belief, in the famous phrase from her Lancaster House speech, that “No Deal is better than a Bad Deal”.  Evidently, she is desparate for a settlement.

In a sense, then, one can scarcely blame her for seeking to bounce the Cabinet today.  Its members are being given this morning only to examine 500 or so pages of the Withdrawal Agreement alone before it meets this afternoon.

It will be impossible for them to undertake the full timely study of this text, plus legal advice about it, within this brief time-frame – let alone to get independent advice about what it all adds up to.

It follows that when May proposes the immediate approval of the draft deal today, Brexiteering Ministers have no option but to seek to persuade the Cabinet as a whole to withold that approval – even if that means missing the November deadline for a summit.

On our count, Sajid Javid, Jeremy Hunt, Dominic Raab, Gavin Williamson, Liam Fox, Michael Gove, Chris Grayling, Esther McVey, Natalie Evans, David Mundell and Penny Mordaunt have all variously asked questions or expressed doubts about where the deal is going.

Add Liz Truss, Andrea Leadsom and Geoffrey Cox to the list – all these are entitled to attend Cabinet, though they are not full members – and one reaches 14 of a total of 29, just under half.

Of course, it is the Prime Minister who takes the voices and shapes Cabinet minutes: its members don’t do anything so crude as cast votes.  In short, if she is determined to make the proposed deal the basis for a summit, Cabinet members aren’t well placed to stop her.

Which leaves only one course open to them.  If those resistant to approving any deal on the basis of a single meeting aren’t heeded, they will have no practicable alternative but to resign.

Our article of a month ago was headed: the Cabinet must stand ready to take back control.  Today may be the last chance that its members have to do so.

Desmond Swayne: Weaning parents off disposable nappies

We must look at the benefits that reusable nappies can offer, and promote greater awareness so that people can make an informed choice.

Sir Desmond Swayne is a former International Development Minister, and is MP for New Forest West.

The message from the Budget is clear: consumers have made their views known on plastic packaging. But that is just the tip of the iceberg. Let’s empower people to cut down on other single-use plastics to benefit the environment, reduce waste and emissions in our over-stretched waste systems, and support household finances.

Both Defra and the Treasury have spent considerable departmental time and resource exploring how to influence consumer and industry behaviour when it comes to cutting plastic consumption, and rightly so.  For now, Philip Hammond says he is content to rely on industry to drive plastic use down rather than resort to taxation. Industry, especially hospitality and independent food retailers, have taken proactive steps over the last twelve months. I’m pleased to see that extraneous packaging has been banished from the majority of fruit and veg in our supermarkets, and plastic straws have been replaced by waxy paper ones in pubs and bars across the country.

But this is only the start. With a recent UN study finding that we have only twelve years to prevent irreversible damage to the climate, people are only now realising it is their own responsibility to limit their impact on the planet – and that they must do this by making real changes to their daily routine.

The good news is that changes can be made quickly and to good effect – and this is why I was pleased to see the subject of reusable nappies being raised by Michael Gove at Party Conference this year. We’ve targeted straws, cotton buds, balloon sticks and shrink-wrap. Disposables, which currently make up four to six per cent of household waste, are the obvious next step.

The average baby uses 4000 nappies up to potty training, the majority of which will go to landfill: eight million of them every day in the UK alone. As well as taking up a large proportion of limited landfill space and putting significant pressure on our waste-collection services, disposable nappies typically contain around 30 per cent plastic material which can end up polluting land or water resources.

Whilst it would not be a very Conservative measure to ban disposables, especially given the other pressures young families have to contend with, we must look at the benefits that reusable nappies can offer, and promote greater awareness so that people can make an informed choice. The time is right for Government to support this with practical and effective policy. Defra is consulting about how to end the use of single-life plastic straws and plastic-handled cotton buds which is important.

But it should also address two aspects of the use of disposable nappies. First, it should consider how to ensure that the plastics used in disposable nappies are as biodegradable and as harmless to the environment as possible. I understand that is something manufacturers are considering, but the development of a realistic disposable recycling system is still at a nascent stage.

Second, we need to look at how to share adequate information with consumers to enable them to make informed decisions – particularly about the impact that disposable nappies will have on the environment, even when they are responsibly removed to landfill. How long do disposable nappies take to biodegrade? What are the products of that process and what are their effects on the environment? What happens to nappies that are not responsibly disposed of, but end up in our watercourses and seas?

Parents should also know how modern reusable nappies work. I understand that nowadays reusables are light-weight and easy to wash – far removed from the heavy terry towelling models of days gone by. This is information that new parents could receive when they are given their Bounty packs during maternity care. Most importantly, parents need to know that it doesn’t have to be a case of all or nothing. An Environment Agency study found that, if parents swap to just one reusable a day, they can save using 800 nappies over the first 2-3 years of a child’s life, and make significant reductions to their own carbon footprint, not to mention savings to the household purse.

The Government has a tremendous opportunity here: better information for consumers; more biodegradable and safer plastics; less plastic going to landfill; reducing the emissions created through waste management; and a burnishing of the government’s green credentials. This policy initiative would be entirely consistent with the Environment Secretary’s record of green pragmatism and with his determination to make a difference to our environment; a small but impactful step that chimes with the growing traction of consumer responsibility.

How a Brexit deal would be done

What will happen this week? When could a summit take place? What would the Cabinet say – and what might the Attorney General do?

This week’s Cabinet meeting

ConservativeHome is told that there are two Brexit-related items on the agenda for discussion at tomorrow’s Cabinet meeting.  The first is the now-weekly deliberation on preparations for leaving itself and for No Deal.  The second is a more general exchange and gathering of views.

That might seem to provide an opportunity for Theresa May to put a draft deal to Cabinet members.  It looks like a convenient week for Downing Street to do so.  This is because the Commons is in recess from tomorrow until next Tuesday, November 12.  It would suit Number Ten for MPs to be absent if and when proposals are put to the Cabinet, because this would minimise the opportunities for hostile reaction and the inevitable talk of a leadership challenge.

However, it appears that the Government and the EU have not yet reached an outline agreement, though there is so much smoke and mirrors that one can never be quite sure.  In any event, the Prime Minister would presumably not want to risk putting a proposal agreed by Sabine Weyand and Olly Robbins straight to Cabinet members. (Remember what happened three or so weeks ago.)

A summit in mid-to-late November?

A more likely way of proceeding would be for the Cabinet to have another discussion about the key issues at stake – including five key issues we raised yesterday: the Northern Ireland backstop, implications for Scotland and the Union, a UK-wide customs arrangement, the enforcability of a political declaration, and what this last might contain.

We hope that Cabinet members press, as some did at last week’s meeting, for three conditions to met for any proposed deal.  That they approve it; that the Attorney General gives a view of it in writing, and that the Chief Whip offers an assessment of its likelihood to pass the Commons – in particular, whether it would effectively split the Conservative Parliamentary Party and leave Theresa May reliant on Labour backbench votes for it to pass.

Cabinet members told this site yesterday that any draft deal must be put to them for approval.  Number Ten wants to get a move on, because the more time ticks away before March 29, the less of it the Government will have to get its legislative preparations completed.  A date for a special summit to deal that deal was previously provisionally pencilled-in for the weekend of November 17-18.

Will Raab go to Brussels this week?

One view is that settling a mid-to-late November date for a summit is only possible if Dominic Raab flies to Brussels later this week to agree it with Michel Barnier.  If this is correct, the Prime Minister would seek tomorrow to get broad agreement from the Cabinet for him to do so on an agreed basis.

If Raab and Barnier reached an agreement about a draft deal and summit date, May would duly go to the latter herself to formalise the agreement in principle.  There is talk of a four-way press conference at the end of such a summit, starring the Prime Minister, Barnier, Donald Tusk…and Raab himself (to show the Parliamentary Party that the pro-Leave Brexit Secretary is signed up).  The deal would then be put to Cabinet.

Such a timetable would leave a dangerous gap for Number Ten between an agreement to hold a summit and it actually taking place.  It would presumably be filled by claims and counter-claims about what was in the deal to be signed off.  There would be that talk of 48 letters to Graham Brady.  However, Brexiteering Tory MPs would probably want to wait to see the final product.

Would there be Cabinet resignations?

Let us presume for a moment that this is controversial.  A question that follows is: would any Cabinet members resign and, if they did, would that leadership challenge follow?  (This line of thinking shows the importance to May of getting Raab’s assent to any deal.  If she doesn’t have it, she won’t have his backing in putting one to Cabinet.  Which suggests that she is now dependent on his agreement to be able to do so.)

The Prime Minister survived the resignations of David Davis and Boris Johnson without then facing a confidence ballot.  The consensus expectation is that she would similarly be able to withstand the loss of Andrea Leadsom, Esther McVey and perhaps Penny Mordaunt – and that Liam Fox and Chris Grayling are unlikely to quit.

Michael Gove going would be more problematic.  So would be the departures of Sajid Javid and Jeremy Hunt.  But these are unlikely.  In particular, Cabinet members whose departments would be in the front line in the event of No Deal have an obvious incentive to stay on.  These are Gove (agricultural products at the border), Grayling (transport and prospective queues, particularly in Kent), Javid (border control and security arrangements) – and Matt Hancock (medical supplies), though there is no realistic prospect of the pragmatic last resigning.

What would be the role of the Attorney General?

The arrival in Cabinet of Geoffrey Cox, with his track record as a Brexiteer and authority as a senior QC, has transformed its balance of debate.  The Attorney General played a central role in demolishing a set of Robbins/Weyand proposals in the middle of last month.  He has turned up to a meeting of Andrea Leadsom’s pro-Leave pizza club of Ministers.

Cox is surely no Peter Goldsmith – prepared to issue different drafts of guidance, each closer to the view that the Prime Minister wants.  There might well be a row about Cabinet members’ access to his written advice, which will be provided to May.  Number Ten will be nervous about it leaking if distributed.  Labour, other opposition parties and many Conservative MPs will demand that Parliament sees it.  We want it to be published.

A conventional expectation is that Cox would make an oral presentation to Cabinet.  Is it conceivable that he could stress the distinction between his legal responsibilities and his political views?  (“Well, Prime Minister: as a lawyer, my view is that under these proposals we could not escape the backstop.  But as a politician, my take is that they are preferable to No Deal.”)

If the Cabinet approves a deal, what happens next?

The Commons would then undertake its “meaningful vote”.  Today, we glance only at one aspect of it.  Let us suppose for a moment that Brexiteers are unhappy with a deal agreed by Cabinet, and that perhaps there have been resignations.  We stress that neither of these will necessarily be the case in the event of a deal.

Would, say, ERG members immediately flood Graham Brady will a mass of letters demanding a confidence vote – thus risking blame for alone seeking to bring down May at a crucial moment in the Brexit drama?

Or would they wait for the meaningful vote, join MPs from other parties in opposing the Prime Minister’s plan – and hope that, if it went down, she would then resign?  This would arguably leave them less directly exposed to criticism from fellow Tories.  We don’t know what the answer is, but the question is worth asking.

Sir David Cameron-Hume. In time, why not?

He may eventually be able to construct a case for return which, while tortuous, would not be beyond the reach of his powers of persuasion.

David Cameron is in a horrible bind as he perseveres with writing his memoirs.  Remainers boo him for losing the EU referendum.  And Leavers don’t cheer him for calling it – because he was on the wrong side, as they see it, and oversaw a Project Fear campaign whose apocalyptic predictions were swiftly disproved.  He cannot believe that the decision to call the poll which, in effect, pitched him out of Downing Street was the right one.  But he must go on claiming that he was correct to give the British people the choice: to come clean would be an admission of failure.  Cameron has escaped from many a trap in his time, but this one holds him fast.

Furthermore, he surely can’t return to Parliament, at least for the moment.  The Brexit negotiation is arduous, and he would be blamed, not without reason, for failing to make preparations for leaving.  If, in the short-term, Brexit is turbulent, because it comes with an acrimonious and disruptive No Deal, he would be held responsible for harm.  If, on the other hand, the economy manages just fine – either because there is a deal, or because No Deal works out better than some expect – he would scarcely be able to take the credit.  So for the moment he has little option but to plug away at his book, while actors knock him for relaxing in France “with his trotters up”.

The medium-term could  be different.  Cameron is young enough to be able to look forward to it (he is 52), and the passing of time is a wonderful thing.  If Brexit turns out well and the Conservatives win in 2022, he would be able to construct a case which, while tortuous, might not be beyond the reach of his powers of persuasion.  Of course he didn’t want Britain to leave the EU but, look, the country’s steaming ahead now and, you know, that wouldn’t have happened if he hadn’t had the courage to call that referendum – whatever the cost to himself.

That would be the first part of his pitch.  We appreciate that it is less than full and frank.  But the second part would be less easy to dismiss – namely, that he still has something to offer, and wants to put something back in.  Having urged Cameron not to leave the Commons, we are scarcely in a position to argue that he shouldn’t return.  He ran a government which, for all its ups and downs, ground the deficit downwards and delivered a remarkable run of public service reform.  Think Iain Duncan Smith.  Think Michael Gove.  Think Francis Maude’s work in Whitehall, or Steve Hilton’s drive for transparency.  For all that, Cameron must ultimately take the credit.

If Cameron really does want to become Foreign Secretary, he will be well aware that there is a precedent – well, of sorts.  Alec Douglas-Home, having been succeeded as Conservative leader by Ted Heath, went on to serve him as Foreign Secretary from 1970 to 1974.  He had left the Lords because it wasn’t believed practicable to run the country from the Upper House, and we can’t quite see the Foreign Office being run from it in this day and age, either.  So the Commons it would be.  No Association would have him, some will say.  We disagree. He would persuade his way in somewhere, somehow.  The chance to select a former Prime Minister would be irresistible.