- Theresa May managed to get her cabinet to agree to her Brexit strategy at a high-stakes meeting at Chequers yesterday.
- Every cabinet minister signed up to a 12-point plan for how to extricate Britain from the European Union, despite their past disagreements.
- May then said she’ll lock down the plan by restoring a policy of “collective responsibility”, which means ministers must resign to disagree with her.
- As a result, many of the most prominent backers of a harder Brexit will effectively find themselves silenced – provided the policy holds.
Theresa May’s cabinet ministers rallied behind a single, relatively soft Brexit plan yesterday after a marathon day of arguments and debate.
And a single line from a letter May sent to MPs celebrating the rare show of unity indicates that dissenters will struggle to push for a harder form a Brexit from here on out.
After ministers like Boris Johnson, David Davis and Michael Gove joined their colleagues in backing May’s plan she reimposed a convention which will likely see them lose their job if they step out of line.
(Business Insider summarised the plan here – and May’s office also tweeted a video version explaining its salient points.)
— UK Prime Minister (@10DowningStreet) July 6, 2018
May took the moment of agreement as an opportunity to reimpose “collective responsibility”, a convention which means ministers are formally banned from disagreeing with government policy, including the Brexit plan.
Provided the policy is adhered to, it will effectively silence the most influential supporters of a Brexit which would see the UK diverge more sharply from the EU.
May’s letter, published in part on Twitter by Sam Coates, the Deputy Political Editor of The Times newspaper, said she was out of patience with displays of disloyalty. It said:
“During the EU referendum campaign collective responsibility on EU policy was temporarily suspended. As we developed our policy on Brexit I have allowed cabinet colleagues to express their individual views.
“Agreement on this proposal marks the point where that is no longer the case and collective responsibility is now fully restored.”
Collective responsibility has been a hallmark of modern British politics for years, but was suspended by David Cameron during the 2016 EU referendum to prevent a rebellion within the Conservative party.
Since then it has been commonplace to see May’s top team – particularly Boris Johnson – break ranks to turn on their leader, usually pushing for a harder version of Brexit than the government appeared to be contemplating.
From now on, in order to criticise her plan, Tory ministers will be expected to resign, give up their ministerial salary, staff, and other perks such as government cars to ferry them around.
Indeed, in an apparent attempt to encourage some ministers to go quietly, government aides said yesterday that anybody who disagreed with May’s plan at the meeting in Chequers, rural Buckinghamshire, would lose their ministerial car immediately and be forced to walk or call a taxi to get home.
This – from a snr gvt source – extraordinary.
Cabinet ministers who resign will immediately be stripped of the cars and abandoned in mid Buckinghamshire
— Sam Coates Sky (@SamCoatesSky) July 6, 2018
It is unclear how willingly previously unruly ministers will accept the new rules, having been given relatively free rein during May’s premiership so far.
However, even if ministers hold the line, the European Union may well decide it won’t entertain May’s exit plan, putting the process back to square one.
On Friday night, chief negotiator Michel Barnier said that the agreement was “to be welcomed” but said he said the EU could not be sure whether the proposals are “workable and realistic” without more detail.
Official negotiations between the two parties resume on Juy 16.
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