Theresa May didn’t choose a quiet life when she appointed David Davis as the Brexit Secretary, Liam Fox as the International Trade Secretary and Boris Johnson as the Foreign Secretary. Mostly, the men have bickered amongst themselves up to this point. But today the Prime Minister’s official spokeswoman put some distance between May and her minister charged with Brexit negotiations.
Yesterday Davis had told the Commons that he thought it unlikely that Britain would be able to retain single market access while also controlling EU migration. He said:
‘This government is looking at every option but the simple truth is that if a requirement of membership is giving up control of our borders, I think that makes it very improbable.’
But today Downing Street told journalists that the Cabinet Minister was ‘setting out his view’, and contrasted this view with that of May’s which was ‘I think the Prime Minister set out how she’s approaching this yesterday which is we are going to be ambitious, we’re going to go after the best deal that we can get for the UK, and all the work on that is now underway.’
‘The Prime Minister wants to have the work underway, she recognises that people have differing views, that’s why we need to do the work that there is and all of this is going to have to be negotiated with our European partners, but we should go after the best deal we can.’
Asked how it was that the minister for Brexit could possibly set out a view from the government Dispatch Box in the Commons that was different to the one held by the Prime Minister, or not the official government view, the spokeswoman said:
‘I don’t know why you have to have a policy on a view. He was setting out his opinion… Policy tends to be a direction of travel you are doing. Saying something is probable or improbable isn’t necessarily a policy.’
In case you need a translation, this statement really means: the Prime Minister does not want to say that it is unlikely that Britain can maintain single market access while driving down EU immigration, and Davis was freelancing. The response internally to his comments is likely to be far more direct and icy.