What DO they think they’re doing?
THE ‘Brexit ultimatum’ from two of Mrs May’s most ambitious and calculating Ministers is the starkest illustration of her struggle to maintain discipline in a Cabinet riven with warring factions.
Mr Johnson and Mr Gove made their move in the wake of her calamitous speech to the Tory Party Conference.
Despite their protestations of loyalty, they smelt weakness – and have seized the opportunity to strike against the Remain camp in Cabinet, headed by Philip Hammond. The Brexiteers are infuriated by what they see as the Chancellor’s pursuit of a ‘Brexit lite’ in which the UK shadows the single market for a long transition period – which is why Johnson and Gove have demanded a set date for the end of the transition. They have also been angered by Hammond’s reluctance to spend money preparing for the chance of a ‘no deal’ Brexit, which they say makes failure in the Brussels negotiations more likely because it ‘weakens our hand’.
There are already signs that the enfeebled PM has been forced to act on their demands: her pledge on Friday to enshrine in law the start of Brexit is in the spirit of their call for a strict timeline for the transition.
And last week’s announcement that Mr Gove was joining a ‘war cabinet’ of six predominantly Leavebacking Ministers plotting Britain’s negotiation strategy fits with their call for No 10 to take greater control of the Brexit process.
With the number of Tory MPs who want Mrs May to stand down now close to 40, her grip on power is too fragile for her to resist.