If last week’s Cabinet was a unified affair with everyone agreeing about the problems with the EU’s version of the backstop, today’s was not. On the one hand, you had Geoffrey Cox warning that the backstop would be like being stuck in Dante’s first circle of hell. On the other, you had David Lidington, the effective deputy Prime Minister, telling ministers that he was the only one who had been an MP on Black Wednesday and they couldn’t have that level of chaos again, which—by implication—there would be with no deal.
I understand that Jeremy Hunt spoke very forcefully about how the UK couldn’t be stuck in an indefinite backstop and that the EU mustn’t be able to unilaterally stop this country from leaving it. Sajid Javid said similar things and also criticised the messaging around the possible extension of the so-called ‘implementation period’. This irritated Mrs May who blamed this problem on a leak from the EU side.
Michael Gove said that he was worried that the UK negotiating team would agree a deal in Brussels that the Cabinet could not support; increasing the chances of no deal. He also said the UK must be out from under the backstop before the next election.
Geoffrey Cox, though, was the bluntest. He warned the Cabinet that the choice before them was between a backstop that as currently proposed the UK—or at least part of it—couldn’t get out of, no deal or repudiating the backstop. Very soon, Theresa May and the Cabinet is going to have to decide which of these is the lesser evil.
Update: One of those in a room says that Cox was saying that while the UK would not know when the backstop would end as it is currently drafted, it would have to end as Article 50 couldn’t settle the future relationship. So, the backstop would not be like Dante’s first circle of hell as it would have to end at some point.