Unclear Brexit vision from a divided cabinet
Political columnist Janan Ganesh and FT editor Lionel Barber discuss how Boris Johnson's call for national unity comes at a time when the Conservative cabinet remains divided on Brexit
Featuring Lionel Barber and Janan Ganesh; produced and edited by James Sandy
I fear that some people are becoming ever more determined to stop Brexit, to reverse the referendum vote of June the 23rd, 2016, and to frustrate the will of the people.
The debate in Britain about Brexit is entering a new phase. Ministers are offering their own ideas in speeches, and the Prime Minister Theresa May will speak shortly about her vision for security relations. But is the bigger picture clear about the end state of relations between the UK and Europe? Here with me is Janan Ganesh. Clarity, have we got it?
Not that much more clarity after Boris Johnson's speech. He's clear that he wants Britain to play no part in the single market or the customs union. He seems to be saying he doesn't even really want us to align regulations with the European Union. And that seems to be probably the furthest form of exit of all the options on the menu.
And it's clashed with the general thrust of his speech, which is that leavers should compromise with remainers. It was a closely fought referendum - 52 to 48 - but the substance of the speech was fairly declarative in one direction. The problem is that he, himself, does not speak for the entire government. And there is no agreed position between the Cabinet, never mind the entirety of the Conservative party.
So we have to look at other members of the cabinet, Philip Hammond, for example, who is pretty clear that he wants maximum convergence, staying as close to the single market as possible in the interests of industry.
Yes, he indicated that towards the end of 2017 and was in a world of trouble with his own party. There were backbench MPs, some ministers who were talking about the removal of Philip Hammond, because he wasn't sufficiently committed to Brexit. So it's a dangerous game to make that argument for a relatively close relationship economically between the two sides beyond exit. It's far easier, actually, to do what Boris Johnson is doing, which is to stake out a more dramatic policy.
Yeah, it's interesting. I was talking to a cabinet minister this week who was saying that the Cabinet hasn't actually come to any sense of agreement on the trade-offs between, for example, maximum access to the single market versus maximum control over immigration.
Freedom of movement.
Well, I think this is the unfortunate irony of the Johnson speech, which is that it was an appeal to national unity at a time when there isn't Cabinet unity. And there are only 20-some of those politicians. There is huge disagreement within the Cabinet. You can call it the right to diverge between those who want a very close economic relationship - Philip Hammond being one of them - and those who want a much more dramatic form of exit, which allows Britain to exploit the economic opportunities, especially in terms of regulation of leaving the European Union. And that's Boris Johnson. But there are backbench MPs who are even stronger on that than Boris Johnson.
So simple question, how much was this a putative leadership speech versus a sincere speech about what's best for Britain in Europe, bearing in mind treaty obligations, legal obstacles, et cetera?
Well, the telling thing is that Boris Johnson was asked in the Q & As whether he would resign from the cabinet this year by way of making a political statement about the direction of Brexit, and he refused to rule it out. So I think there was an element of a leadership positioning gambit to the whole speech.
Thank you, Janan. Very good to speak with you again.