A narrative is gaining shape that the Brexit negotiation will be settled by the Cabinet enforcing a Canada-style plan on Theresa May. To weigh whether that’s likely to happen or not, let’s have a quick look at where its members stand (full members only).
- Liam Fox – has warned against free movement and customs union membership.
- Sajid Javid – didn’t back Brexit, but believes that if it’s to be done, it must be done visibly and properly.
- Esther McVey – hasn’t come out for the Chequers plan publicly, on Downing Street’s resignation watch list.
- Penny Mordaunt – Ditto.
- Dominic Raab – in a difficult position, since the job requires sticking closely to the Prime Minister.
- Jeremy Hunt – mobile, but has indicated “intellectual sympathy” for a Canada-type deal.
- Gavin Williamson – backed Leavers in the key Cabinet committee on Brexit (which no longer meets).
- Philip Hammond – wants to stay as close as possible to the Single Market.
- Greg Clark – stresses frictionless trade in goods, a key part of the Chequers proposals.
- David Lidington.
- David Gauke.
- Damian Hinds.
- Michael Gove – has publicly distanced himself from the third way, Norway-to-Canada plan now being pushed by his supporter, Nick Boles, but has floated EEA membership, and other options, to Conservative MPs.
- Chris Grayling – voted for Brexit but, as May’s former campaign manager, the ultimate loyalist.
- James Brokenshire – a May appointee in Cabinet, so reliant on her patronage.
- Karen Bradley – ditto.
- Brandon Lewis – ditto.
- David Mundell – will be mindful of the political culture of Scotland, which voted to remain in the EU.
- Baroness Evans – voted for Brexit but, as Leader of the Lords, will be bound by her obligations to the Prime Minister and sensitive to the pro-Remain sympathies of the upper house.
- Alun Cairns.
- Matt Hancock.
- Jeremy Wright.
With the Chancellor straining one way and the Home Secretary the other, plus a significant chunk of Cabinet members who are unlikely to push the Prime Minister one way or the other, it is difficult to see the top table uniting to urge taking one of the two available routes.
The Canadians are a bigger block than the Norwegians, but don’t have anything like a majority around the Cabinet table, at least at the moment.
But with the Chequers proposals on separating manufacturing from services apparently dead, and with the EU opposed to May’s customs scheme, something will have to give somewhere…
…though the most likely deal to be put to Parliament, if there is one, will be agreement on the Withdrawal Deal (which is why so much energy is currently being devoted to the backstop), plus a “Cheqada” political declaration that is unspecific on important essentials.