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Has Theresa May got a Brexit plan B?

8 January 2019

6:04 PM

8 January 2019

6:04 PM

Here is what I have learned about this morning’s cabinet meeting:

1) The Prime Minister is still refusing to rule out a no-deal Brexit, in spite of pressure to do so from a number of ministers – but most notably from the Work and Pensions Secretary of State, Amber Rudd. In respect of May’s attitude to no-deal, the PM was “inscrutable as always”, according to one of those in the meeting. But another has told me that Theresa May confirmed she would make a statement if her deal is – as expected – rejected by MPs next week.

No minister expects her to announce at that juncture that the UK will go full steam ahead to exit from the EU on 29 March without a deal, on WTO rules. So her colleagues feel there has been some unspoken movement by her away from no deal. That said, May continued to insist the only choices are her deal, no deal or no Brexit at all.

2) Andrea Leadsom, the leader of the Commons, urged the PM to “put a vote to the Commons [on Brexit] next week that we can win, and then take that to the EU”.

This is code for amending the motion for the so-called meaningful vote on May’s Brexit plan so that it would either make entering and exiting the Northern Ireland backstop a prerogative of the UK parliament or to stipulate that parliamentary approval of the Brexit deal would require the EU to drop the backstop. According to one minister the suggestion “did not land well”; another said it was met with “stony silence”. I deduce that the idea of the Government putting down or supporting such an amendment is dead (not least because Theresa May has been advised that if EU leaders are held to ransom in that way, they will tell her to hop off).

3) Before the Brexit discussion, the home secretary Sajid Javid gave an update on the Channel refugee crisis, and said he would enforce so-called EU “Dublin” rules to return those seeking asylum to the country where they first arrived in the EU. The Chancellor then asked him whether that would be possible “if we leave the EU without a deal”. I am told that Javid said “no”. According to a minister, “that was the Chancellor making it tricky for Saj, and the Saj not thinking on his feet”. What then surprised the home secretary’s colleagues is that later in the meeting “he went hard [in favour] of no deal”.

4) I deduce from all of this confirmation of one big thing I’ve been saying for days: no one in the Cabinet knows what the PM will do if, as expected, she loses the vote on her Brexit plan next week. And, truthfully, I am beginning to wonder if she knows what she’ll do.

Robert Peston is ITV’s Political Editor. This article originally appeared on his Facebook page


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