It’s no surprise that Brexit has been dominating the headlines once again this week, with Theresa May standing firm on her Chequers stance, and various Cabinet ministers trotting out to show their support for the plan which continues to fracture her party.
If the existing internal Tory tensions were not high enough, this week saw splinter groups form within splinter groups. The reportedly well attended and ‘mutinous’ meeting of the European Research Group (ERG) on Tuesday sparked rumours of open rebellion against May, only to be tempered by a press conference of senior Brexiteers including Jacob Rees-Mogg and David Davis, launching their own version of a clean break from Brexit. Both Brexiteers targeted their criticism on Chequers rather than the Prime Minister. It is yet to be seen how far this loyalty can stretch if the PM refuses to give up on what Rees-Mogg described as a “dying duck in a thunderstorm”.
At a special cabinet meeting on Thursday, Ministers discussed preparations for a no-deal Brexit, followed by the publication of the second batch of technical papers outlining sector specific advice. These covered such diverse topics as data protection, telecoms, and the recognition of seafarer certificates of competency, further papers on key sectors such as aviation have been delayed to later in the month.
The national press continues to be the chosen vehicle for much of the Tory infighting and Brexit debate, after a particularly incendiary column from Boris Johnson over the weekend and a warning from Raab yesterday claiming Britain would not stand by the agreed £39bn divorce bill in a no-deal scenario. This is despite the Chancellor stating in a Lords Select Committee hearing that Britain would still honour its financial obligations regardless, though it was not clear that these “obligations” would sum to the full £39bn.
Further highlights from Hammond’s committee session, which came just as the Treasury confirmed Mark Carney would continue as Governor of the Bank of England until 2020, included a delay to the confirmation of the date for the Autumn Budget. The Treasury now sits in a slightly uncomfortable position whereby any announcements before the expected agreement on Brexit (now pencilled in for a November Summit) may prove redundant or misjudged if this doesn’t materialise. However, there will need to be enough time for any announcements to be implemented ahead of the next tax year in April. It is thus unsurprising that Hammond is keeping the date close to his chest.
Lastly, in a sign that the Mother of all Parliaments is slowly adapting to modern times Leader of the House, Andrea Leadsom, confirmed that a new system of proxy voting will be introduced to allow MPs absent from Parliament due to baby leave. This move comes after the Conservative Party Chairman broke a pairing agreement with Liberal Democrat Jo Swinson during a key Brexit vote when she was on maternity leave. Swinson, who was accompanied to the debate by her 6-week old son has described the move to proxy voting as “long overdue”.
Emma Shearer, Consultant