British ministers are no clearer about what PM Theresa May’s intentions are after today’s Cabinet meeting. ‘Reading tea leaves would be easier’, remarks one Secretary of State.
This problem is demonstrated by the different messages those present took from the meeting. One Cabinet source said that May’s closing words about governing in the national interest ‘felt a bit like a farewell speech’. While another minister says that May ‘gave no impression of being off’.
Part of the problem was that because May had to dash off for a phone call with Arlene Foster, the leader of the DUP, the meeting hadn’t drawn to its natural conclusion when it was brought to an end. As one of those present put it, the discussions about what happens if a third meaningful vote fails were ‘staring into the abyss’. There was, though, a sense that given the government couldn’t satisfy Oliver Letwin et al on indicative votes, it might be best to leave it to them. Andrea Leadsom was among those who urged caution on the idea of the government introducing its own votes on Brexit options. ‘There was a sense that since MPs were going to force them anyway, why be the ones who bring it about.’
Hunt and Javid were both interested in a last gasp meaningful vote (potentially MV4), designed to put the pressure on Labour Members of Parliament worried about no deal. But May has committed to the EU that she’ll have a meaningful vote this week, which — along with opinion in parliament–creates a massive obstacle to doing that.
May also appears to be moving more firmly towards ruling out no deal. One minister says that it is the ‘the first time she has said it so definitively’. This minister says that ‘it is the issue of the Union seems to be what has really convinced her’ of this.
We now wait to see what happens when the Commons votes tonight. The lack of Cabinet agreement on indicative votes makes it more likely that the Oliver Letwin amendment passes tonight, which would allow parliament to hold its own set of indicative votes on Wednesday afternoon.
This article was originally published on The Spectator’s UK website. Now listen to the Coffee House Shots podcast with Katy Balls, James Forsyth and Fraser Nelson.