In the Brexit inner Cabinet meeting last week, it was clear that Theresa May’s main objection to ‘max fac’, the customs arrangement favoured by Brexiteers, is that it wasn’t consistent with her aims for the Irish border. So, Karen Bradley, the Northern Ireland Secretary, has been put on the Cabinet’s max fac working group to examine if it is compatible with the government’s position on the Irish border. As I say in The Sun this morning, if, at the end of this process, Bradley says that it could work in Northern Ireland then Mrs May would be able to climbdown with dignity.
Bradley is a May loyalist—she was one of her junior ministers at Home Office. Since being added to the Brexit inner Cabinet she has, according to her fellow members, been very much a representative of her department. But in this more informal working group she might feel free to go off script. One Cabinet colleague of hers says that ‘she is quite influenced by her constituency’, which voted Leave by a 65/35 margin, and that ‘in private, she sounds almost like a Leaver’.
Bradley would also be helping save her boss from a grave error if she paved the way for the government going with max fac rather than the new customs partnership. ‘If she goes down the NCP route, she ceases to be Prime Minister’ one member of the Brexit inner Cabinet tells me. This might be an exaggeration. But what is highly likely is that if she goes for NCP she’ll face a vote of no confidence in her leadership.
It is hard to think of a member of the Cabinet who is more loyal to May than Bradley. But if Bradley wants to get May out of this hole, she will have to go against her and back max fac.