A predictably lively Cabinet meeting today as ministers discussed no-deal planning. Jeremy Hunt said that EU attitudes were hardening because they could see a second referendum coming into view, in part, because of the speculation that people around the Cabinet table were indulging in it. The Foreign Secretary warned that a failure to deliver Brexit would be as devastating for the Tories as the Lib Dems’s failure on tuition fees was to them.
Chris Grayling, the Transport Secretary, railed against the Treasury approvals process. He complained that because of it, the government had missed the boat and not booked as much ferry capacity as it wanted. Michael Gove complained about the inefficiency of the borders delivery group. While Liz Truss, the chief secretary to the Treasury, argued that daily COBRAs were needed from January. I understand that they’ll actually take place from February.
The idea of an indicative vote was, I’m told, pushed by fewer Cabinet Ministers than last time. Damian Hinds and Amber Rudd again led the charge. But I am told that Karen Bradley did not join in this time. Given Bradley’s proximity to the PM, her silence was regarded as particularly significant by colleagues.
Philip Hammond stressed at the meeting that what they were doing must be seen as a precaution, not a policy challenge. He warned that the idea of a managed no deal was a ‘unicorn’. He took issue with the idea that no deal should be the central planning assumption of government—something that both Sajid Javid and Liz Truss had pushed for. David Lidington, the effective deputy PM, prevented any argument from breaking out by saying that no deal should be the principal operational focus of government, a phrase that seemed to satisfy both sides.
In private, Theresa May was just as forceful in her denunciations of a second referendum as she has been in public. This combined with fewer Cabinet Ministers backing an indicative vote than before suggests that the Cabinet discussion on what plan B might be is probably frozen until the meaningful vote actually take places.