Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, set out what ought to be the Government’s strategy on The Andrew Marr Show on Sunday. She said that, in the European Union referendum, “52 per cent voted for us to leave – I want to make sure the Government delivers on that and brings as many of the 48 per cent with us as well, trying to unite the 52 and as many as possible of the 48”.
To The Independent, this looks like an acknowledgement that we should be trying to keep as close a relationship as possible with the EU after we have left. This appears to be the position agreed by the Cabinet, as set out in a flurry of documents over the summer, and which Theresa May is expected to set out in her speech in Florence on Friday.
However, it now appears that Boris Johnson does not agree. The Foreign Secretary apparently feels that he has been kept out of ministerial discussions about the Prime Minister’s speech, and so launched his extraordinary 4,000-word counter-argument. Mr Johnson thinks that Ms May is in danger of yielding too much to the 48 per cent, and that to remain members of the EU single market, as the Labour Party wants, albeit temporarily, would make a “mockery of Brexit”.
The resulting Cabinet Disunity Show has now gone on tour, with Ms May commenting on the plane to Ottawa that “Boris is Boris” and asserting that “this Government is driven from the front” – a reference to Mr Johnson’s attempt to steer the car from the back seat.
As well as cabinet ministers going on TV to disagree with Mr Johnson – and only just within the bounds of collective ministerial responsibility – journalists have been helpfully briefed on the finer points of who stands where.
It would seem that there is a phalanx around the Prime Minister who want a transition period after Brexit in which Britain, although it will leave the single market, would try to keep everything as much the same as possible, in return for a fee – in effect, continuing our net contributions to the EU for two or three years.
This is the position supported by Philip Hammond, the Chancellor, Damian Green, the First Secretary, and Ms Rudd. Mr Johnson takes a different view and is supported by Michael Gove, who destroyed Mr Johnson’s hopes of becoming prime minister last year but who is closest in sharing his views on Brexit.
One of the great mysteries of this Government is what David Davis, the Brexit Secretary, thinks. There have been tensions between him…