Countdown to Brexit: 94 days – Have yourself a very merry Br’Xmas

Instead of the extended Parliamentary seasonal break, the Prime minister has just cut short the Cabinet's Christmas holiday amid fears of no-deal Brexit.

Theresa May has summoned cabinet ministers back six days early to thrash out more details on the contingency plans for a no-deal Brexit.

May will meet with her Cabinet colleagues on 2 January in order to prepare for the increasingly likely “cliff-edge” no-deal Brexit at 11:00 pm on Friday 29 March. 

Yet the official line is that May still hopes to rally support for her deal according to press interviews in which she made an impassioned appeal for Britons to “come together” in a new national effort to build a better country for all outside the EU.  She also urged MPs to back her Brussels deal as she talks of her confidence that Brexit will be delivered on schedule.

How come this is so at odds with the ramp up of the Government’s no-deal Brexit planning – which includes adding 600 civil servants to “front line” departments and allocating an additional £2billion, bringing the total allocated spend on no-deal planning to £5billion?

Cynically – for the party that accused Brexit opponents of creating “project fear” - it seems that the Government itself is looking to maximise the threat of a no-deal Brexit – just one week before postponed debate on accepting the ‘deal’ is scheduled to re-commence in the Commons.

One Government Minister is quoted as describing the meeting as “all about show really.  It’s to prove that we are pulling out the stops to prepare for the worst.”

Michael Gove, the Environment Secretary, is reported to be “petrified” of a disorderly no-deal departure from the EU - which he believes could leave Britain with severe food shortages if the Dover-Calais route becomes blocked.  Gove has accepted that Defra will use its share of the 3,500 military personnel that will be deployed to help ensure that shops in rural communities have enough food in the event of a no-deal.

The Prime Minister tried to buy time by stopping the debate and vote on the negotiated Withdrawal Agreement, two weeks ago – but it still looks likely that the deal will be rejected in Parliament next month.

As it is too late for a Peoples’ Vote – the UK is left with a binary choice of accept the ‘deal’ as it is – or no-deal. 

May hopes to win over Eurosceptic Tory rebels and secure the 10 votes from the Democratic Unionist party to ensure the deal is accepted by Parliament.  She is using her own version of “no-deal project fear” to drive MPs to settle for the deal – no matter how badly they think it has been negotiated and that - as it stands - the UK will be worse off than remaining as a full member of the EU.  And cancelling of New Year celebrations for the entire Cabinet is designed to let the public know just how serious the threat of no-deal must be.

And it seems to be working according to a senior Government source: “It’s now very much our expectation that we can win this vote.”  For the negotiated Brexit to be accepted needs 320 votes in the Commons.

Meanwhile, Oliver Robbins - the most senior official in the UK negotiating team - was in Brussels last week for talks in an effort to seek any concessions before the debate and vote on 14 January.  A statement from the European Commission simply reiterated that there was no further negotiation because the withdrawal agreement had been agreed.

John ShuttleworthComment