James Forsyth

The government needs to know what kind of Brexit deal it wants

The government needs to know what kind of Brexit deal it wants
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Theresa May needs to invite the Cabinet down to Chequers to thrash out the government’s position on Brexit, I say in The Sun this morning. Remarkably, the Cabinet have never had a proper discussion about what the final deal with the EU should be. One senior Cabinet Minister tells me that ‘The million dollar question is the trade-off between regulatory compliance and market access and we haven’t had that discussion yet’.

This failure to talk is frustrating Cabinet Ministers, breeding distrust and contributing to the current break down of discipline within the government. As the policy isn’t decided yet, ministers keep trying to push it this way or that. At the same time, everyone is paranoid that it is being decided in a meeting they are not invited to—this was one of the major factors contributing to Boris’s pre-Florence outburst. Ministers are also starting to believe the worst of each other. Some think that Boris, Gove and Grayling actually want the talks to fail. While Brexiteers fret that Hammond doesn’t want to prepare for no deal as he wants the UK to have to accept whatever deal the EU offers.

With trade talks between the UK and the EU likely to start after the December European Council, there is little time to waste. The government needs to work out its position—and soon.

May should summon the Cabinet to Chequers and tell them they are not leaving until a collective decision has been reached on what deal the UK is aiming for. She should end the meeting by saying that anyone who disagrees with the decision reached is free to leave the government. But everyone who stays must support the policy both publicly and privately.

Resolving these differences won’t be easy. As one minister puts it, ‘Are you ever going to get Philip Hammond and Boris Johnson to agree on how to leave the EU?’ But May has to try. For the alternative, is more division and drift.