BORIS AND GOVE PLOT TO ‘HIJACK’ NUMBER 10
EXPOSED Menacing secret memo to PM dictating terms for a hard Brexit triggers new Cabinet rift
THERESA MAY is effectively being held to ransom over Brexit by Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, a bombshell leaked letter reveals.
The Cabinet heavyweights made a series of veiled threats in a secret missive to the Prime Minister –
which contained blunt instructions on how she should deliver the ‘hard Brexit’ they demand.
The incredible letter also contains the sinister-sounding instruction that Mrs May should make rebel Cabinet Ministers toe their line by ‘clarifying their minds’.
It lays bare Cabinet tensions and will fuel claims that the Brexit stance of Mrs May – who supported the Remain campaign during the EU referendum – is being dictated by Mr Gove and Mr Johnson.
One senior Government figure, who has seen the letter, said it showed that Foreign Secretary Johnson and Environment Secretary Gove had conducted a ‘soft coup’ and that Mrs May was ‘their Downing Street hostage’.
It comes amid continuing speculation of a leadership challenge to Mrs May, who has struggled to impose her authority since the botched General Election.
In the missive, the Brexit cheerleaders:
Instruct the embattled Prime Minister in blunt terms to ‘underline her resolve’ to achieve a total break with Brussels;
Accuse Chancellor Philip Hammond, who wants a soft Brexit, of not showing ‘sufficient energy’ and letting the EU hold Britain ‘over a barrel’ by refusing to plan for the possibility Britain walks away from talks with no deal on trade relations;
Lecture the Prime Minister on how to run ‘your government’ – and say it is vital for her to display more ‘confidence’;
Tell her to ‘articulate the following’ – and then set out their own hard Brexit manifesto – including naming June 30, 2021, as the fixed end of Britain’s transition period after we leave the EU in March 2019.
Government insiders say the letter, the contents of which have been made known to The Mail on Sunday, was sent last month. It will send shockwaves around the Government.
A well-placed source said it suggested Mr Gove and Mr Johnson were running what was tantamount to a ‘hard Brexit cell’ inside the Cabinet.
The cloak-and-dagger nature of the ultimatum is illustrated by the James Bond-style instruction that the letter is ‘for your and Gavin’s eyes only’ – a reference to Mrs May’s No10 chief of staff, the former Conservative MP Gavin Barwell. It is understood the letter was delivered to him by hand by Mr Johnson. But the pair could face a backlash for appearing to order her not to show it to other Cabinet Ministers or Whitehall mandarins.
The letter includes the Orwellianthreat to ‘clarify the minds’ of rebel Ministers and make them ‘internalise the logic’ of the Johnson-Gove approach to the EU. In another jibe at Ministers such as Mr Hammond who opposed leaving the EU, it says Mrs May must ensure all Cabinet members take the same tough line on Brexit – ‘whatever their original positions during the referendum’.
They should not even be allowed to express doubts about the final outcome of Brexit behind closed doors and must echo Mrs May’s stance word for word ‘publicly and privately,’ they argue. And the ‘Whitehall machine’ and its ‘ossified ways of working’ cannot be ‘left to its own devices’ to deliver Brexit. New high-powered staff are needed to ‘apply grit to the oyster’.
The tone of the letter is as shocking as its contents. It ranges from quietly menacing to ingratiating flattery, such as praising how Mrs
May’s ‘excellent speech in Florence landed well’.
Government sources believe the letter may have been drawn up with help from the pro-Brexit European Reform Group of Tory MPs and the Legatum Institute think-tank.
The letter says Mrs May’s ‘sensible pragmatism’ is no excuse for watering down Brexit – and that to ‘counter those who wish to frustrate that end, there are ways of underlining your resolve’.
Mr Johnson and Mr Gove do not name Mr Hammond but refer to his comment that Britain had to engage in ‘sincere co-operation’ with the EU, saying such a stance would ‘leave us over a barrel’.
The pair also warn Mrs May to rein in Mr Hammond over claims he refuses to spend public money planning for a ‘no deal’ outcome.
Clearly, both issues still rankle with Mr Johnson and Mr Gove, who write: ‘We are profoundly worried that in some parts of Government the current preparations are not proceeding with anything like sufficient energy… We all want you to push your agenda forward with confidence and have your Government articulate the following’ – and set out their own Brexit manifesto.
The letter ends with a conspiratorial offer by the pair to meet Mrs May to discuss her response ‘as and when you consider wise’.
A No10 spokesman said: ‘We do not comment on leaks.’ Asked why Mr Johnson and Mr Gove had bypassed Whitehall officials, the spokesman added: ‘It is common practice under governments of all colours for Cabinet Ministers to offer advice and views to the PM.’
Mr Johnson and Mr Gove declined to comment.
Prime Minister Theresa May UNDER THE COSH: