Friday, 28 Feb 2020

Brexit betrayal: How Philip Hammond ‘took away Theresa May’s strongest EU weapon’

Senior Cabinet members claimed Boris Johnson is now “turbo-charging” preparations to leave the EU without a deal on October 31. Over the weekend, the new Prime Minister asked his Cabinet to tell newspapers and broadcasters the UK will be heading for no deal unless the bloc agrees to scrap the backstop. New Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove, in charge of no deal preparations, said the Government was “operating on the assumption” that Britain would leave without a deal and it was a “very real prospect” because EU leaders had not changed their minds about scrapping the contentious backstop.

In a Sunday Times op-ed, he said that an agreement might not be struck with the EU by then, but there was a “new clarity of mission, we will exit the EU on October 31, no ifs, no buts, no more delay”.

On Theresa May’s Brexit deal, Mr Gove added: “You can’t just reheat the dish that’s been sent back and expect that will make it more palatable.”

After the weekend, many political analysts have suggested Mr Johnson might indeed succeed and change the mind of EU chiefs to reopen the withdrawal agreement, by “frightening them” first with no deal and then “charming” them.

In his 2019 book “The Great Betrayal”, newspaper columnist Rod Liddle claimed the threat of a no deal divorce should have been Theresa May’s most crucial bargaining chip.

However, Mr Liddle claimed, former Chancellor Philip Hammond effectively took away her strongest weapon.

He wrote: “Theresa May’s most crucial bargaining chip – we will leave with no deal – was rendered impotent by the actions of members of her own Cabinet and especially the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

“The correct approach to negotiations would’ve been to explain to Barnier at the outset: ‘’We are leaving the EU.’

“’We are perfectly happy to do so with no deal other than a WTO deal, and pay you nothing whatsoever.’

“‘But you are our friends and allies and we would like to be helpful…’ “

Mr Liddle noted May could scarcely use the threat of no deal – which would be gravely injurious to countries within the EU – because the threat was palpably false.

He explained: “At various stages, over the course of 18 months, when May and her team left for negotiations, Philip Hammond, the Chancellor, would state either that there was no possibility of a no deal Brexit, or that a no deal Brexit would mean ‘planes won’t be able to take off’ or that the economy would be ruined.

“Fellow front-bench Remainers echoed these remarks and added a few of their own.

“Seen from the EU perspective, this made it clear that ‘no deal’ was a paper tiger when it should have been the starting point from which negotiations proceeded and, of course, Hammond should have been asked.

“In short, May’s strongest weapon was effectively taken way from her.”

Mr Hammond, who resigned as Chancellor hours before Mr Johnson became Prime Minister, has recently held talks with shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer about a possible cross-party alliance to stop no deal.

He is believed to have asked former Tory leadership contender Rory Stewart to front it.

Possible options include amending Government legislation to force the PM to seek a delay beyond the October 31 departure deadline.

Other options include forcing through a Private Member’s Bill or triggering a vote of no-confidence in the Government.

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