What to expect from today’s cabinet meeting: there will be grumbles, but no resignations – yet
For the foreseeable future, Michael Gove is staying put, as are Liam Fox and Chris Grayling. Mind you, the foreseeable future only takes us up to about the middle of next month
Theresa May has survived everything that her enemies (on her own side) and the opposition (in the Labour Party) have thrown at her. Cabinet ministers have resigned in protest, including two Brexit secretaries, and Jacob Rees-Mogg has held a news conference. The DUP has deserted her and last night voted with Labour – they might even have defeated the government if some Labour MPs hadn’t gone missing.
And yet she ploughs on, if anything looking more confident than ever. This morning the cabinet will meet with two new members. Amber Rudd, back after an absence of six months, will be a welcome reinforcement for the prime minister. She is a forceful advocate for the Brexit deal, replacing Esther McVey, who became so heated in opposition to it at last Wednesday’s cabinet meeting that some ministers say they thought she might have to be removed. After the meeting, however, she removed herself by resigning.
Stephen Barclay, the new Brexit secretary, will probably refer hard questions about the deal to the prime minister, who is, after all, about to fly to Brussels to finalise the text that should be agreed at the summit of EU leaders on Sunday – presumably after a further show of resistance by the Spanish over Gibraltar and possibly by other countries over fish.
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The big question for this morning’s meeting – whether there will be further resignations – seems to have receded. Liam Fox, Chris Grayling and, most importantly, Michael Gove seem to have sealed the split in the Eurosceptic movement by deciding to back May’s Brexit deal. Gove has long argued that the priority for those who want to get out of the EU’s economic orbit altogether is to get out. He thinks the trade relationship can be fixed later.
Boris Johnson, David Davis and Jacob Rees-Mogg, on the other hand, argue that the guarantee of an open border in Ireland in the withdrawal agreement ties us to the EU in perpetuity and would be harder to get out of than the EU itself.
For the foreseeable future, though, Gove is staying, as are Fox and Grayling. Mind you, the foreseeable future only takes us up to about the middle of next month. The other two ministers thought to be dawdling by the cabinet exit door, Andrea Leadsom and Penny Mordaunt, could still resign, but, if May could not be deflected by the departure of a foreign secretary and two Brexit secretaries, she might not even notice they’ve gone. Such has been the turmoil of the past few weeks that the media would probably barely pause to say “Who’s that?” about their replacements.
So there may be grumbling and pointed comments about the Brexit deal at today’s cabinet, which will be reported almost verbatim and within hours – so much so that cabinet meetings might as well be live streamed. But none of it is likely to drive the prime minister off course.
Attention is already turning to the next stage of this rolling constitutional crisis, namely the attempt to get the deal through the House of Commons (assuming it is signed off by EU leaders on Sunday).
Then we are into a huge game of parliamentary bluff. To simplify, parliament faces three options. It could vote for May’s deal; it could allow us to leave the EU without a deal; or it could try to hold another referendum, which might lead to Brexit being abandoned. Labour and many pro-EU Tories say they will not allow a no-deal Brexit, but they can do that only by voting for something else.
If the choice is between May’s deal and a referendum, which way would it go? No one knows.
The Independent has launched its #FinalSay campaign to demand that voters are given a voice on the final Brexit deal.
Sign our petition here