Is the Government better led by a Remainer or a Leaver? There are arguments either way.
The Government is better led by a Remainer who now believes in Brexit, because he or she is more likely to build support for it among the 48 per cent, thus creating a consensus for it.
The Government is better led by a Leaver who campaigned for Brexit, because as a believer he or she is more likely to make a persuasive case for it, thus increasing support.
The question is in a practical sense academic, since the Government is led by a Remainer who now believes in Brexit – Theresa May – and who set out a coherent plan for its basic shape last year.
She said that Britain will leave the entire EU, including the Single Market and the Customs Union. In today’s Sunday Telegraph, she says that the Government is “proving the doubters wrong”.
Certainly, the judgement of Conservative MPs since June has been that to change the premiership before March next year would undermine the Brexit negotiations, and they are right.
But the dilemma we describe at the start of this article won’t go away, as Boris Johnson’s own interview, given to the Sunday Times today, reminds us.
In a nutshell, his point in giving it is that he believes the Government collectively is failing to make the most of Brexit, both rhetorically and practically.
On his first point, he says that he is planning to write a public case for a “liberal Brexit” soon, because the advantages of leaving have not been properly outlined for the public. We look forward to reading it.
On his second, all can yet be well if the Government prepares adequately for No Deal, but throws just as much effort into getting a good one, the cornerstone of which will be the capacity to diverge from the economies of the EU27 when necessary.
As Johnson himself puts it: “we have a very original economy, very different from other European countries – tech sectors, bioscience, bulk data, this is a very innovative place to be. We may in future wish to regulate it in a different way from the way that Brussels does.”
The Cabinet needs to agree this eminently sensible approach while meeting tomorrow, and should be reshuffled in order to implement it as effectively as possible.
There are other reasons for May to shuffle. The Government is holding up better than its majority would suggest, but it lacks the sense of mission that marks successful administrations.
David Cameron’s first government had conviction reformers at welfare (Iain Duncan Smith), education (Michael Gove), the Home Office (May herself), the Cabinet Office (Francis Maude) and local government (Eric Pickles). This gave it a sense of impetus.
It cannot be said that Minister-for-Minister this Cabinet is as strong. There is also a new generation of Conservative MPs to bring on: the James Cleverlys and Tom Tugendhats and Rishi Sunaks and Neil O’Briens and Kemi Badenochs, and so on.
George Freeman has conjured up a Tory ideas festival from nothing. Nick Boles is shaping future policies into a book. There is a lot of future talent on the Conservative backbenches. And there are rising Ministers: our readers picked out Dominic Raab and Rory Stewart.
Finally, there is the question of how best to utilise two players who get rave reviews from the members, but look like creatures from different planets, at least at first glance: Ruth Davidson and Jacob Rees-Mogg.
We will suggest a way forward before the week is out.