Brexit War Cabinet agreement – Everything we know

Brexit War Cabinet agreement – Everything we know

The 11-strong, Brexit ‘War Cabinet’ met at Chequers yesterday for a marathon 8-hour discussion to decide their opening Brexit position.

Between 2pm and 10pm Theresa May, Boris Johnson, Liam Fox, Michael Gove, David Davis, Gavin Williamson, Philip Hammond, Amber Rudd, David Lidington, Karen Bradley and Greg Clark used the Prime Minister’s grace and favour manor house to discuss EU regulations post-Brexit. They paused for sweetcorn soup, ham hock croquette and slow braised Guinness short rib of Dexter beef. For dessert they had lemon tart with raspberry sorbet and fresh raspberries.

The group agreed to mutual recognition of goods, with a declaration that the UK intends to maintain EU standards. Crucially though, the UK won’t do so in perpetuity. The committee agreed the need for Britain to have the right to diverge on regulations, to be overseen by a neutral dispute settlement procedure.

The overall view is that Brexiteers triumphed in the discussions.  According to the Spectator, Theresa May’s view was “closer to the Boris Johnson position than the Philip Hammond one” and a source told both James Forsyth and Guido Fawkes: “Divergence has won the day”. The BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg waited outside in the cold to watch the comings and goings of ministers. One told her that everyone was “rather happy” and another that the PM had “played a blinder”.

However, it’s clear that there is still some way to go. One person in the room told the Financial Times that divergence hadn’t “prevailed” but agreed the meeting was “genuinely positive and substantial.” Another FT source said: “It all finished rather positively. It seems like everyone thinks they got what they wanted.” A minister told Kuenssberg that they had agreed to a “pragmatic Brexit” with a “growing realisation” that voluntarily following EU rules in key goods sectors would protect thousands of jobs. Another said May had been ‘firm’ with Boris Johnson. And another senior figure described the result as an “outbreak of unity for now” and a source told Forsyth there were ‘no winners’ and “everyone gave some ground”.

But Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt confirmed the broad thrust of the reports this morning. He said it was agreed that the UK should retain “the right to choose to diverge” from the EU after Brexit, and said there was no chance the government would seek to maintain a customs union with the EU after Brexit. He told the Today programme:

    “I think the central understanding – you have divergent views on a big issue like Brexit as you would expect – but the central common understanding is      that there will be areas and sectors of industry where we agree to align our regulations with European regulations: the automotive industry is perhaps      an obvious example because of supply chains that are integrated.

    “But it will be on a voluntary basis, we will as a sovereign power have the right to choose to diverge and what we won’t be doing is accepting changes       in rules because the EU unilaterally chooses to make those changes.”

Jean-Claude Juncker, EU commission president, said he would not comment until he knew the “exact outcome”of the talks. He joked that he couldn’t comment because he wasn’t the British Prime Minister, but it would be good for Britain if he was.

The official photograph revealed a number of advisors had been in attendance for at least part of the discussion. The Chief Whip, Julian Smith can be seen. Number 10 Spad and longtime Tory advisor on EU matters, Denzil Davidson is pictured. May’s Chief of Staff Gavin Barwell is smiling on the right and one of David Davis’s Spads, Raoul Ruparel is present. May’s Brexit advisor, Olly Robbins, even appears to have been given a seat round the table. Robbins was the former Permanent Secretary at DExEU until September 2017 when he moved to lead a Brexit unit from Downing Street.

Only four members of the committee voted Leave at the referendum: (Liam Fox, Michael Gove, David Davis and Boris Johnson) and only four members of the committee represent constituencies that voted Remain: (Theresa May, Philip Hammond, Liam Fox and Greg Clark).

Mrs. May will now discuss the position with the  full cabinet, presumably on Tuesday. The Prime Minister will then deliver a speech on Friday, setting out Britain’s negotiation position formally.