Is there a plot to unravel Brexit? Tory Eurosceptics are asking this question after the Observer published details over the weekend of a ‘secret summit’ to address the ‘failings’ of Brexit. The paper reports that the two-day event in Ditchley Park was a cross-party affair. Shadow foreign secretary David Lammy – who previously backed a second referendum – was in attendance, as was Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove, who under Theresa May backed the Chequers deal.
Lammy and Gove were in a group which included Peter Mandelson and David Lidington, May’s former deputy. There were several Brexiteers in attendance, such as former Tory party leader Michael Howard and former Labour MP Gisela Stuart. Documents from the summit describe it as a ‘private discussion’ seeking to answer the question: ‘How can we make Brexit work better with our neighbours in Europe?’. There was an acknowledgement of a sense among ‘some at least, that so far the UK has not yet found its way forward outside the EU’.
Gove has emphasised that he attended in a personal capacity, rather than being there to represent the government. What’s more, it doesn’t seem that Gove even thought to run his attendance by the Prime Minister. Speaking on Monday, a No. 10 spokesperson suggested the first Rishi Sunak had become aware of the Gove’s attendance was following the Observer report. Former Brexit negotiator Lord Frost has criticised the event as ‘a further piece of evidence that many in our political and business establishment want to unravel the deals we did to exit the EU in 2020 and to stay shadowing the EU instead’.