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?

From an analysis of the Withdrawal Agreement text: May’s broken promises on the ECJ, the backstop, customs – and dividing the UK

Article 20 says that the backstop will only ‘cease to apply’ if ‘the Union and United Kingdom decide jointly’ that it should end – no sovereign right for the UK to leave.

Customs checks in Irish Sea

  • Article 9 of the backstop states that ‘the [VAT and excise] provisions of Union law listed in Annex 6 to this Protocol concerning goods shall apply to and in the United Kingdom in respect of Northern Ireland’.

  • Annex 2 of the backstop allows certain charges and costs recovered to take place when goods travel from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.

  • The EU is making no secret of the fact that Northern Ireland will be treated differently: ‘the EU’s Customs Code will also continue to apply in Northern Ireland… Under the backstop and in order to avoid a hard border, Northern Ireland businesses can place products on the EU’s internal market without restriction. Placing goods on the internal market that come from outside of Northern Ireland requires that the processes provided for in the Union Customs Code will have to be applied’ (European Commission, November 2018, link)

  • This is despite the Prime Minister saying on 9 July: ‘First, there is what is provided for in the European Council’s guidelines from March this year. This amounts to a standard free trade agreement for Great Britain, with Northern Ireland carved off in the EU’s customs union and parts of the single market, separated through a border in the Irish sea from the UK’s own internal market. No Prime Minister of our United Kingdom could ever accept this; it would be a profound betrayal of our precious Union.’

Regulatory checks in the Irish Sea

  • Article 7 of the backstop says that ‘nothing in this Protocol shall prevent the United Kingdom from ensuring unfettered market access for goods moving from Northern Ireland to the rest of the United Kingdom’s internal market’. This does not apply for goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.

  • Article 7 of the backstop says that there could be ‘controls at the ports and airports of Northern Ireland’

  • The UK in respect of Northern Ireland will remain aligned to a limited set of rules that are related to the EU’s Single Market and indispensable for avoiding a hard border: legislation on goods, sanitary rules for veterinary controls (“SPS rules”), rules on agricultural production/marketing, VAT and excise in respect of goods, and state aid rules

  • Article 8 of the backstop provides for goods from Northern Ireland to be indicated as ‘UK(NI)’ – a clear separation of Northern Ireland from the UK.

  • Article 10 of the backstop says that ‘the [Agriculture and environment] provisions of Union law listed in Annex 5 to this Protocol shall apply, under the conditions set out therein, to and in the United Kingdom in respect of Northern Ireland’.

  • The EU has said that that ‘in order to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland, and to ensure that Northern Irish businesses can place products on the EU’s Single Market without restriction, it will be necessary for the UK in respect of Northern Ireland to maintain specific regulatory alignment with the EU’ (European Commission, November).

  • The EU has been clear that a regulatory barrier will be introduced for goods coming in from Great Britain: ‘There… [will be] some compliance checks with EU standards, consistent with risk, to protect consumers, economic traders and businesses in the Single Market. The EU and the UK have agreed to carry out these checks in the least intrusive way possible. The scale and frequency of the checks could be further reduced through future agreements between the EU and the UK. For industrial goods, checks are based on risk assessment, and can mostly take place in the market or at traders’ premises by the relevant authorities. Such checks will always be carried out by UK authorities. As for agricultural products, already existing checks at ports and airports will need to continue, but will be increased in scale in order to protect the EU’s Single Market, its consumers and animal health’ (European Commission, November 2018, link).

  • This is despite May saying on 9 October 2017:

Paul Girvan (South Antrim) (DUP): “I want to give comfort to the people in Northern Ireland on this matter of not having a soft or hard border down the middle of the Irish sea. I want that assurance because the people of Ulster feel that they are being set on the sidelines.

Prime Minister: “I am very happy to give that assurance. We do not want to see a border down the Irish sea either. We want to maintain the integrity of the internal market of the United Kingdom.”

The whole UK will stay in a customs union

  • Article 6 of the Backstop says that: ‘a single customs territory between the Union and the United Kingdom shall be established (“the single customs territory”). There is no possibility of the UK being able to do its own trade deals under this. This is made clear in Article 3 of Annex 2 of the Backstop:  ‘Under no circumstances may the United Kingdom: (a) apply to its customs territory a customs tariff which is lower than the Common Customs Tariff for any good or import from any third country… apply or grant in its customs territory tariff preferences to any good on the basis of rules of origin that are different from those governing the granting of such preferences to the same good by the Union in its customs territory’.

  • This looks set to become permanent. The text in the Withdrawal Agreement states that there is a ‘common objective of a close future relationship, which will establish ambitious customs arrangements that build on the single customs territory provided for in this protocol’ (p.303).

  • This is despite the Conservative Party Manifesto 2017 pledging that –

“As we leave the European Union, we will no longer be members of the single market or the customs union.”

Possibility of the extension of the transition period

  • Article 132 (p122): Provides for a one-off extension of the transition period (potentially up to 2099). This is despite the Prime Minister promising –

“An implementation period ‘of around two years’.

The backstop can only end with EU permission

  • Article 1 of the backstop says that ‘the provisions of this Protocol shall apply unless and until they are superseded, in whole or in part, by a subsequent agreement’.
  • Article 20 of the backstop: says that the backstop will only ‘cease to apply’ if ‘the Union and United Kingdom decide jointly’ that it should end. I.e. no unilateral exit clause and no sovereign right for the UK to leave

This is despite multiple promises from Cabinet Ministers that the UK would have a unilateral right to leave.

EU control of our laws / level playing field

  • Article 12 of the Backstop says that ‘the [State Aid] provisions of Union law listed in Annex 8 to this Protocol shall apply to the United Kingdom’ (p.317). The same Article also treats Northern Ireland differently. Article 12(3) makes clear that the European Commission has the power to investigate ‘a measure by the United Kingdom authorities that may constitute unlawful aid’.

  • The EU also says that states that ‘The aim of the Protocol is to ensure that EU law, in the areas stipulated in Protocol 3 to Cyprus’s Act of Accession, will continue to apply in the Sovereign Base Areas’.

  • Article 174 says that matters could be referred to the ECJ. The EU even makes this clear in a chart on their website (see below).

 

  • Article 87 says that ‘if the European Commission considers that the United Kingdom has failed to fulfil an obligation under the Treaties or under part…. of the agreement before the end of the transition period, the European Commission may, within four years after the end of the transition period, bring the matter before the Court of Justice’.

  • Again this is a clear breach of multiple promises by the Prime Minister – for example, that –

“We are not leaving only to return to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. That’s not going to happen’.

A letter to Graham Brady from J.Alfred Prufrock MP

Which may or may not cast light on why the Chairman of the 1922 Committee must make enquiries about correspondence in his possession.

Friday November 17 2018

Dear Sir Graham,

This is a letter to express no confidence in Theresa May as Leader of the Conservative Party and to request a ballot of confidence in her as holder of that position under the condition, first, that she has clearly lost the confidence of a significant section of the Conservative Parliamentary Party (an assessment to be established by yourself in close consultation with myself); second, that no sum below £100,000 has been received from either the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and/or Conservative Campaign Headquarters for the refurbishment of the roof of the working headquarters of Grummidge West Conservative Association (address to be provided to yourself in unminuted coversation with myself together with relevant bank account details) by 8am this coming Monday, November 19; and, third, a further unminuted conversation, this time in relation to the workings of the honours system, is to take place by 18.00 tomorrow, Sunday November 18, between yourself, myself and Lady – apologies – Mrs Prufrock at a secure location the address of which is to be determined by yourself and myself during that first unminuted conversation which must take place by 23.30 this evening, Saturday November 17, by which time I will have returned from my evening engagements, details of which I cannot disclose for security reasons.  I trust all this is clear.

Yours sincerely,

Alfred

P.S: Please eat this note after reading.

A first glance at some of the main points in May’s deal

We set five tests for it. Does this draft agreement pass them? And does it really take back control of our borders, laws and money?

When Theresa May set out her strategy for the Brexit negotiations, she set out three goals: to take back control of Britain’s money, laws, and borders.

As the talks have progressed, more issues have emerged – not least Northern Ireland and the territorial integrity of the UK. So this month we suggested a further five points to consider.

They are: would the deal hive off Northern Ireland? Does it threaten to break up the Union? Would it trap the country in a customs union? Does it hand over money for nothing? And does it more closely resemble Chequers, or ‘Canada’?

Below, we take a look at how the Prime Minister’s proposals measure up against these yardsticks.

Are we taking back control of our money?

Probably. We’re paying the so-called ‘divorce bill’ as part of the Withdrawal Agreement, so won’t be able to use it as leverage during the future relationship. Lee Rotherham also points out that there’s little mention of the UK regaining our share of EU assets, despite lots of mention of our liabilities to the bloc.

Perhaps more ominously, we will continue paying in during the initial ‘transition period’, and if we choose to extend it Article 138 says that our contributions will be established at an ‘appropriate’ level by the Joint Committee. One Labour MP compared this to signing an insurance agreement without knowing what the excess was.

The question is whether, or how, we end up disentangling ourselves from the EU during that period. Some of these issues may only become clear when the future relationship is negotiated.

Are we taking back control of our laws?

When it comes to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, the negotiators seem to have made some progress. Compared to the EU’s initial proposals (which a former ECJ judge denounced as ‘leonine’) its role is substantially reduced, and the idea that it would be the mediating institution in disputes between the UK and the EU is gone. One analyst has dubbed this a ‘solid win’.

On the other hand, this piece in the Financial Times suggests that the role of the ECJ, especially during the transition, could be much greater than the above analysis suggests, and that it might in effect remain the ultimate arbiter of UK-EU disputes.

Beyond that, there are other points of concern. First, Rotherham reports that the deal locks the UK into the European Convention on Human Rights, precluding any possibility of repatriating judicial supremacy to these islands – a longstanding Conservative ambition, and one shared by the Prime Minister.

Moreover, there was extensive ‘level playing field’ provisions (Annex 4) which would prevent future British governments from setting independent policy in a broad range of areas, and Rotherham suggests that the section on equivalence could end up with Britain in “in a fax democracy version of a Regulatory Union, and probably in a form of Customs Union.”

Finally, there is the salient fact that the backstop proposals, if implemented, don’t contain any procedure for the UK’s unilateral withdrawal (at least not without resiling from our entire negotiated relationship with the EU). This is a serious curb on the practical power, if not the technical sovereignty, of Parliament.

CCHQ is taking pains to combat the idea that the backstop is inescapable. In an email to the National Convention, Brandon Lewis writes:

  • “If both sides agree the future relationship is ready we would leave the backstop. This judgement would need to be taken in good faith and with view to their commitment on best endeavours.”
  • “If there is a disagreement, a special conference would try and resolve the differences.”
  • “If that failed to reach an agreement it would go to independent arbitration as to whether the NI protocol is still needed to meet its objectives.”

According to Article 170, “independent arbitration” means “the International Bureau of the Permanent Court of Arbitration”, an intergovernmental organisation based at The Hague. The five-person panel will comprise two members apiece from the UK and the EU, plus one independent member, whittled down from a shortlist of 25 (Article 171).

On the face of it this could allow the UK – if it had a very strong case – to climb the chain of appeals and have EU objections to withdrawing from the backstop overridden at the PCA. That doesn’t seem a likely scenario, however, and can’t be spun – as Lewis is trying to do – as a practical, reliable means of quitting the backstop.

Are we taking back control of our borders?

Eventually, probably. The Withdrawal Agreement at least doesn’t commit the UK to maintaining freedom of movement in perpetuity, and it has been argued in some quarters that the Government has actually managed, to an extent, to divide the ‘four freedoms’ and secure some form of market access without unlimited EU immigration.

However, the UK will have to maintain our current policies – including freedom of movement – at least until the end of the ‘transition period’ in 2021. Unless a full future relationship has been negotiated by then (and experience doesn’t offer much grounds for optimism) we will then probably use our one-off extension of the ‘transition period’, further prolonging freedom of movement.

If we revert to the backstop, freedom of movement comes to an end, but at present that option looks likely to be so unpalatable that few prime ministers would choose to enter it if they can help it.

The upshot of all that is that is that we aren’t locked in to freedom of movement indefinitely, but we probably won’t be able to introduce new controls for years.

On a final note, Rotherham suggests that, despite what David Mundell and other Scottish Conservatives have been saying about the UK becoming an ‘independent coastal state’, in fact the fate of British fishing stocks is still on the table.

Will it hive off Northern Ireland?

The barriers are less than they might have been – it doesn’t look as though there will be a customs border down the Irish Sea – but Northern Ireland is still a case apart under the proposed backstop, which is why it features in a huge share of the deal’s text.

Whilst the customs union provisions will be UK-wide, Ulster will remain additionally subject to a range of single market rules and other EU laws including VAT and excise (Article 9), Agriculture and environment (Article 10), the single electricity market (Article 11), and in part state aid (Article 12).

This will put Northern Ireland in the problematic position of having its economy regulated by a foreign legislature in which it is unrepresented (although MEPs from the Republic of Ireland might try to claim that mantle), and with the explicit intention of prioritising its alignment with the EU and Irish markets rather than the British one, despite the latter accounting for vastly more of its external sales.

Since the British Government will also have no right to withdraw, this means that Northern Irish voters will have no democratic control over important areas of law via either Stormont or Westminster.

However, RTE’s Tony Connelly has tweeted to explain how the EU intends to allow GB-NI trade to run smoothly… and it sounds a lot like the combination of targeted checks, back-office enforcement, and technology that was supposedly incapable of allowing for a ‘frictionless’ north-south trade border without the backstop. A Dutch customs expert has also told MPs that a technical solution on north-south trade is perfectly practical (video available).

If Dublin and Brussels are sincere when they say that their goal is simply to ensure smooth trade and avoid giving would-be terrorists obvious targets, this holds out some hope that the customs element of the backstop could be obviated entirely by a proper north-south arrangement.

However, it may be very difficult to get this done in practice. As the Prime Minister told the Commons on Thursday, under these proposals the backstop cannot be revived once it is set aside. That will make the other side very wary about doing so.

The problem of Single Market rules, however, would remain regardless.

Does it threaten to break up the Union?

The backstop poses several potential dangers to the integrity of the United Kingdom, both in relation to Northern Ireland and elsewhere.

First, there are the long-term ramifications of the Northern Irish economy potentially re-aligning away from the mainland in the course of a decade (or longer) locked into structure that gives preferential treatment to north-south commerce, and of Irish politicians unofficially – but probably publicly – presuming to act on its behalf inside the EU.

Ian Lucas, the Labour MP for Wrexham, highlighted the extraordinary way in which the agreement handles GB-NI trade in a question to the Prime Minister on Thursday.

Not to be under-estimated either is the damage this could do within political unionism. Northern Ireland’s position in the United Kingdom has not been strengthened by its almost complete political isolation, and if the links forged over the past couple of years were burned in the process of passing this deal it would represent a significant step backwards.

But the backstop isn’t just a problem for Northern Ireland. As Joanna Cherry, an SNP MP, has pointed out, such a high-alignment and asymmetrical arrangement makes life much, much easier for separatists across these islands. Not only does it restore the high floor for ongoing relations which made ‘independence in Europe’ so saleable, but it throws in an added advantage in that Scotland could theoretically regain its status as a ‘rule maker’ whilst not missing out on any trade with rUK.

This, and not just solidarity or high unionist principle, is presumably why both David Mundell and Ruth Davidson threatened to resign in the event of a withdrawal agreement which offered differential treatment for Ulster. Since that’s exactly what we’ve got, their u-turn on this is hard to explain.

Nor is all quiet on the Welsh front: during questions in the Commons yesterday a Plaid Cymru MP once again illustrated the dangers of the backstop by asking May to assure him that there would be no border between England and Wales if the latter were to adopt the Northern Irish settlement.

Would it trap the country in a customs union?

There seems a very strong chance of this. As previously explained, the backstop would lock the UK into a customs union without the ability to withdraw unilaterally. Worse, that would be a customs union in which the Government had no input into the rules.

Of course, neither side officially wants the backstop to come into force. But there are reports that, on the EU side at least, it is viewed as something to be built out on when constructing the future relationship, rather than merely a refuge of last resort if the negotiations falter. There is therefore a risk that integration on this level becomes the basis of the future partnership.

Does it hand over money for nothing?

Our editor posed the following question: “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?”

The short answer seems to be “not many”. The political declaration on the future relationship is broad-strokes, to say the least, and whilst it could potentially shape up into a good agreement there are also plenty of areas where things could go wrong from London’s perspective. Rotherham also sets out in his Brexit Central piece several ways in which he thinks the financial settlement is unfair on Britain.

What is certain is that if the UK hands over the entire divorce bill it won’t be able to use those billions, and the threat of the EU being under-funded, as leverage during the negotiations. (The IEA have suggested one way in which London might split the payments, holding back £19.8 billion earmarked for “outstanding budget commitments”.)

Chequers or Canada?

This one we can’t definitively answer. The withdrawal agreement is not the future relationship, and the document we have on the latter is too short to draw clear conclusions from. A lot will depend on how the negotiations go between next March and the ultimate end of the transition period in “20XX” (note: not even “202X”!).

Whether or not an all-UK ‘Canada’ arrangement is possible seems to depend on whether the Government can negotiate to have the EU’s minimal-friction, tech-enabled, and intelligence-led customs arrangements applied to north-south trade from Northern Ireland instead of east-west.

However, there are ominous indicators. As our editor highlighted on Friday morning, the final spur for Dominic Raab’s resignation was the insertion, without his knowledge, of a commitment to pursue ” ambitious customs arrangements that build on the single customs territory provided for in the Withdrawal Agreement”. That doesn’t entirely close off the path to Canada, but it heavily skews the parameters of the negotiations towards a settlement that looks more like Chequers.

Our survey. Seven out of ten Party member respondents oppose the draft Brexit deal.

The finding suggests that she will have an uphill struggle to sell it to them, just as she did over Chequers.

Last month, 68 per cent of respondents to our survey wanted a Canada Plus Plus Plus-type Brexit, or else no deal at all – in other words, a quite hard to very hard Brexit.

And this month, we have 72 per cent against the Prime Minister’s draft deal and 23 per cent for it.

In other words, the bulk of our Party member panel respondents want a hardish or clean Brexit, and see Theresa May’s draft deal as not delivering it – a view that many will have taken without reading the best part of 600 pages of which it consists.

But there you go.  It’s salutory to look back to our final survey before the EU referendum, which showed 71 per cent of respondents either definitely for Leave or leaning to Leave, and 27 per cent either definitely for Remain or leaning to Remain.

What seems to have happened over time is that a very big slice of those Tory activists who voted Leave have solidified behind the clean or hardish Brexit that they probably always favoured in the first place.

It will be claimed that there is more support for the Prime Minister’s draft deal among Party members than this finding suggests, to which we make three responses.

First, the survey was opened on Thursday morning, and most responses arrived before May’s Commons statement and press conference of later that day, which might have made a difference at the margin.  And, certainly, views may change.

Second, this is the much same panel that swung behind May’s joint report agreement of last December by 73 per cent to 22 per cent.  It has not been reflexively hostile to everything she has done in the Brexit negotiations.

Finally, the survey results tend to end up in the same ball park as YouGov’s polls of party members, which are infrequent, but we regard as the gold standard.  After all, theirs are opinion polls and ours is a self-selecting survey.

That said, the survey has a strong record, and the message that this result sends to Downing Street is: polls suggest that voters haven’t swung behind your deal, and seven out of ten Party members oppose it.

The Barclay brother-in-arms. Meet the new Brexit Secretary.

May above him, Hammond beside him and Robbins ahead of him, this pro-Leave politician will have embraced his new post knowing that he is hemmed in.

“Who on earth would take Dominic Raab’s old job, anyway?” we asked this morning. “Sideline your Brexit Secretary once, shame on you.  Sideline him twice, and shame on whatever mug steps up to take the post third time round.”  Step forward, Steve Barclay.

On which note, we apologise to the new Brexit Secretary.  He is a very long way from being a mug.  In a party now striving to promote more women to ministerial posts, the standard for male ministers is gradually raised raised.  Barclay is a bright, approachable and Brexiteering Lancastrian who sits for a Cambridgeshire seat.  The chaos of the 2017 election saw him moved out of the Treasury to Health.  He had been the only pro-Leave Minister in the former, that devoutly pro-Remain department, where he watched the goings-on with a sharp eye.  Perhaps that’s why he was shunted out.

At any rate, little pretence will be made, now that May has her deal, that Barclay will have much to do with the continuing negotiation.  More than ever, Downing Street will be in charge.  It evidently wanted a Minister pro-Brexit enough not to agitate the ERG further, but not so senior as to make troublesome waves for Theresa May.  The new Secretary of State’s role will be to prepare for No Deal, which Number Ten is desperate to avoid.  So it will want him to prepare to wind the department down with a view to abolition soonish.

Since there seems to be no majority for the Prime Minister’s deal, however, Barclay will be in the very front line if a no deal Brexit happens.  He knows that Olly Robbins will be viewed as “the real Secretary of State”.  But May’s chief negotiator won’t be exposed to the trials and tribulations of No Deal, if it happens: he will.

Ambitious politicians pick up the ball and run with it, even when a haka-chanting pack is bearing down on them.  Barclay will have embraced the possibility of being trampled five feet deep in mud – perhaps the likelihood – in the cold-eye knowledge that such may be his fate.

Rudd returns to help sell May’s deal

She didn’t establish herself as a strategic Home Secretary, but is a highly effective media performer.

Theresa May cannot rely on the Brexiteers in her Cabinet to go out and sell her draft Brexit deal enthusiastically.  Liam Fox has been helpful to her today, but within very narrow confines.  Two of the holders of great offices of state want the Prime Minister to return to Brussels to push for concessions – Sajid Javid and Jeremy Hunt.  That has left her reliant this week on the energetic Matt Hancock.

Amber Rudd’s return to the top table will be linked to Downing Street’s need for strong, articulate, media-experienced performers to tour the studios on May’s behalf.  The new Work and Pensions Secretary is a first-class communicator: far more adept than the Prime Minister at getting on the front foot, and completely committed to a central element of the draft deal: frictionless trade – or as near to frictionless as can be achieved.  She was a passionate Remainer during the EU referendum, stepping up for TV debates, and closely linked to the anti-Brexit campaign in which her brother, Roland Rudd, was a big cheese.

In one sense, the appointment is surprising.  Rudd was a senior voice in the pro-deal element of backbench former and present Tory Remainers.  Her departure leaves it weaker.  Furthermore, she has an ultra-marginal seat, and is now to be responsible for the hyper-vulnerable business of managing Universal Credit.

But she is the kind of centre-leftish Conservative who is now at this Government’s centre of gravity.  Esther McVey out, Rudd in makes the Cabinet even less leave-tilting than before, with Boris Johnson, David Davis, Dominic Raab and McVey all gone.  There is a big question about whether a Minister compelled so recently to resign should return to government so quickly.  There has been a campaign to suggest that civil servants were to blame for the Windrush debacle.  But for all Rudd’s force on television, she didn’t establish herself as a strategic Home Secretary.  However, she does fill a gap as a Soft Brexitish future leadership contender.  It is possible there may be a vacancy soon.

May’s attempt to force her deal through by threatening “no Brexit” is deeply irresponsible

The Prime Minister surely knows that doing so is damaging. But she appears willing to disregard the cost out of desperation.

I doubt Theresa May began her statement to the Commons yesterday expecting to receive any cheers. So it must have been a pleasant surprise to her when positive noises did indeed echo forth at one point.

Before banking applause, however, it’s important to look at who it is coming from and why. Yesterday, her vocal supporters were those on the Opposition benches who want to prevent Brexit entirely. The most implacable opponents of your Government’s most fundamental policy are probably not the group any politician ought to seek to please. So how did the Prime Minister come to delight them?

Their joy came at five simple words in her statement: “risk no Brexit at all”. It’s easy to see why this caused excitement: here was Theresa May, the person overseeing the whole process, giving succour to the most hardcore Remain hope that we might simply call the whole thing off.

It was damaging enough for Labour and Lib Dem politicians to tout that possibility from the fantasy-pulpit of Opposition. Doing so fuelled divisions in the country that might otherwise have been healed in time, and simultaneously encouraged EU negotiators to believe that their best interests might be served by treating the UK as harshly as possible. The Government itself argued this in the past, and May must surely remember that critique; for the Prime Minister to now contribute to such harm herself is irresponsible at best.

The strategy which led her to do so rests on making two contradictory claims. She hopes to terrify pro-EU MPs into backing her deal by threatening that the alternative is No Deal, while simultaneously terrifying anti-EU MPs into backing her deal by threatening that the alternative is no Brexit.

By implication, she seems to believe not only that each group will believe her, but that neither will ever hear the message intended for the other. Neither of these assumptions seems entirely wise.

The damage threatened by such an approach should be evident, and if it is not then she should observe who cheers her on when she deploys it. Their applause did not come because they sought to help her in delivering Brexit, but because they believe she is helping them in cancelling it.

The Prime Minister has recently started to claim that she ignores her colleagues’ concerns about her approach because she serves “the national interest”. This is a dubious basis on which to assert unassailable authority, as though it were a motivation unique to her. As Iain Martin points out: ‘Everyone involved thinks they are operating in the national interest, they disagree about what that is. Hence, politics.’

Touting the possibility of “no Brexit at all” in a desperate attempt to force her proposal through does not serve the national interest. Indeed, it looks like self-interest has taken priority.

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?

Terror of No Deal is driving May to risk splitting her Party and fall back on Labour MPs instead

That’s the single fact that stands out from the “low tragedy, high farce” of resignations, splits, divisions, principles and ambitions consuming British and Brexit politics.

  • Does the ERG have the numbers and coherence to bring down May?  Jacob Rees-Mogg’s double coup de theatre yesterday – his extraordinary musing-aloud in PMQs about writing to Graham Brady, and his impromptu press conference later announcing he’d done so – has raised the stakes for the group and, of course, for May, the Party, and the country itself.  As a group of 80 people, the ERG doesn’t speak with one voice.  On the one hand, Rees-Mogg and Baker are for a challenge; on other, Bernard Jenkin and Michael Fabricant are apparently not.  Why?  Two main reasons.   First, because they’re not sure the numbers are there to defeat May.  Second, because there’s no agreed successor.
  • But does Brady already have the letters in his pocket? There are few rules governing a 1922 Committee Chairman’s supervision of letters demanding a leadership change.  Perhaps he already has 48, but is unwilling to make an announcement today, when the Commons isn’t sitting.  Maybe some of them aren’t clear. (and if you think that such a letter must be so, you may not have met all members of the Parliamentary Party).  Perhaps some are post-dated.  Maybe he is waiting till Monday.  Perhaps the simplest explanation is the best: he doesn’t have 48. You never know.
  • Will Gove quit today?  On Wednesday, he reluctantly backed the Prime Minister’s deal in Cabinet.  Yesterday, he turned down the Brexit Secretary post, urging her to renegotiate her deal.  His enemies will claim he’s having another “Gove moment” – like his dramatic withdrawal of support for Boris Johnson’s leadership bid.  That’s one reading.  Another is, as we wrote yesterday, that he is intolerably conflicted about which course is best for the country, and certainly cannot bring himself to help sell the deal in public.  May would have done better, from her point of view, to leave him quietly at Environment.
  • Will Mordaunt? (And others.) The International Development has the bit between her teeth about a free vote on the deal.  On and on she pushes – having a second go at May yesterday, this time at a private meeting rather than round the Cabinet table.  But it was never likely that the Prime Minister would unwhip Conservative MPs from the central policy of her Government – not least because it would be read by some as a signal that they would be free to vote against.  It is claimed that Chris Grayling is wobbling: he’s another conflicted Brexiteer.  We don’t read Liam Fox as a resigner.
  • Who stitched up Raab? A key driver for his resignation was a far-reaching change to the Political Declaration over which he wasn’t consulted.  Originally, it suggested that the options for Britain’s economic relationship with the EU would be broad enough to include a Canada-type option.  But the final version, not cleared by him in advance, lashes the country to customs arrangements “that build on the single customs territory provided for in the Withdrawal Agreement”. That’s Norway-plus-customs-union in perpetuity.  It’s easy to blame Olly Robbins.  The finger of suspicion points not just at May but at Philip Hammond.
  • Who on earth would take his old job, anyway? Sideline your Brexit Secretary once, shame on you.  Sideline him twice, and shame on whatever mug steps up to take the post third time round.  It’s too easy simply to blame Robbins, and friends of Raab have a grudging respect for this abilities.  The essence of the matter is that May is her own Brexit Secretary now – working closely with Hammond, who has played a quiet blinder over the closest possible alignment with the EU.  He is the Cabinet’s below-the-radar big winner.
  • Remainers are split, too… It’s easy to miss the point amidst the fog of news, but former and present Remainers are no less divided than Leavers.  On the one hand, Dominic Grieve is going full-out for a second referendum, and seems therefore to have rejected May’s deal.  Former Ministers who have resigned – Justine Greening, Phillip Lee, Guto Bebb, Jo Johnson seem to be in the same camp.  Anna Soubry also pushed for a second poll yesterday.  Meanwhile, Amber Rudd, Nicky Morgan, Stephen Hammond, Bob Neill and Jonathan Djanogly look more likely to swallow May’s deal.  Ken Clarke is on the fence.
  • The Conservative-DUP deal – not dead, but sleeping?  The fury of Nigel Dodds’ assault on the Prime Minister in the Commons yesterday suggested that the deal is off.  It depends what you mean.  Jeffrey Donaldson was stressing yesterday that the confidence-and-supply arrangement is with the Conservative Party, not May herself – but that it would be “in trouble” if her deal passes the Commons.  Evidently, the party is torn between its abhorrence of Jeremy Corbyn and its detestation of the deal.  A common sense reading is that May can’t rely on the DUP post-deal as she did pre-deal.
  • Sympathy for May? No poll has yet suggested substantial support out there – among the great mass of voters who want the Brexit drama to end – for the Prime Minister’s deal.  But there is potential for her in the stand-off between a dogged woman, doing her duty, and a mass of confused and sometimes cowardly men.  The correspondence this site is receiving suggests that there may have been a shift.  A significant card in her hard is the shift of the Daily Express and, above all, the new gentler, kinder (and posher) Daily Mail – which turns Dacre-like fire this morning on the ERG rather than the Government.
  • None the less, her plan seems, in the last resort, to be to watch her Party split – and rely on Labour votes.  It may be that the Whips’ Office has simply cocked up the numbers.  One source claims to ConservativeHome that Julian Smith believed – and perhaps still does – that the DUP will abstain on May’s deal rather than oppose it, and that he is confident that the Tory rebel numbers can be whittled down.  But Mark Francois’ Commons plea to the Prime Minister yesterday looks soundly based: he said that Conservative and DUP backing for it isn’t there in sufficient numbers.  Which leaves Downing Street wooing Labour dissenters.
  • Watch the Cabinet floaters.  One Cabinet member has told this site that trying to read the present political permutations is like trying to play three-dimensional chess with mice as pieces.  That’s about right: the interaction between ERG divisions, Remainer splits, Labour differences, high principle, low ambition, the text of the deal is impossible to anticipate.  Here is Geoffrey Hill’s “low tragedy, high farce”.the crooked timber of humanity is always vulnerable to woodworm.  But one stark fact stands out amidst the swirl.  Terror of No Deal is driving May to risk splitting her Party and relying on Labour MPs instead.