The PM faces an acute and immediate crisis as her Brexit secretary resigned spectacularly, taking most of his ministerial colleagues with him.
David Davis penned a deliberately caustic resignation letter last night outlining a “significant number” of disagreements with Number 10 over the last year, from being obliged to accept the Brussels sequencing of negotiations, through to the compromises on the Northern Ireland border last December.
He said that delivering on the Conservative election commitment of leaving the customs union and single market was looking “less and less likely”, that there had been a “progressive dilution” of a previous cabinet agreement that the UK could diverge from the EU, and that his advice on strict conditions being attached to the recent Northern Ireland backstop proposal was snubbed.
:: David Davis resigns as Brexit secretary
“The general direction of policy will leave us in at best a weak negotiating position and possible an inescapable one,” he wrote, adding: “The inevitable consequence of the proposed policies will be to make the supposed control by Parliament illusory rather than real.”
It’s a pretty devastating letter
“Progressive dilution” of original Cabinet agreement to diverge..
Backstop omitted strict conditions I requested
“Leading to at best a weak negotiating position and possibly an inescapable one”
parliamentary control will be “illusory” pic.twitter.com/KPDDe9pbJf
— Faisal Islam (@faisalislam) July 9, 2018
And he repeated his words from Chequers that the “common rule book” proposal “hands controls of our economy to the EU and is certainly not returning control of our laws in any real sense”.
It was one of the most remarkable leaving shots in recent memory, evoking comparisons with Geoffrey Howe’s savaging of Margaret Thatcher.
But Mr Davis’s concerns stretched well beyond the actual policy that he would have been forced to sell in a tour of European capitals, starting this week.
His fundamental concern is the sidelining of him and his department by the creation of the Europe unit in the Cabinet Office, headed up by his former permanent secretary Olly Robbins as the PM’s personal adviser on Europe.
Dexeu insiders described that shift as “humiliating”, resulting in him spending just four hours in actual negotiations with the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier this year.
But the development by Robbins of a “third-way” customs plan, without his knowledge, and at one point without it even being presented to him, was branded an “utter humiliation”.
The 100-page Brexit white paper, due this week, was the subject of a bizarre ping pong between Dexeu and the Cabinet Office Europe unit, which repeatedly vetoed its language – and this was the reason for its delay, and the argument meant to be settled by Chequers.
Finally, eurosceptic sources suggest that Mr Davis was utterly unimpressed with learning – when he received his mobile phone back – how Number 10 had aggressively spun its control of Chequers, including threats to resigning ministers requiring taxis rather than their government cars back home.
He had restrained from acting on his instinct to resign before, calculating his ministerial team would go and precipitate the possible fall of the May government. His junior ministers, Steve Baker and Suella Braverman, have resigned.
There are now serious question marks about Boris Johnson too.
Allies made it clear that the foreign secretary has not chosen to publicly support the Chequers deal yet – unlike Environment Secretary Michael Gove, Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom, and Trade Secretary Liam Fox.
Some of his close allies are advising him to resign, given his previous dismissal of similar customs plans as “crazy”.
Tory Brexiteer MP Andrea Jenkyns tweeted to ask Mr Johnson to make it a “hat trick” of resignations.
Backbench feelings were running high after a very difficult briefing on the Chequers deal at Number 9 Downing Street last night by the PM’s chief of staff, Gavin Barwell, and the chief whip, Julian Smith.
Some fruity language was exchanged specifically about whether or not cabinet ministers had actually signed off the deal.
The PM is due to face her MPs in the House of Commons tonight. Tory sources suggested a leadership challenge was on the cards, perhaps this week.
All this in a week when the PM hosts top EU leaders, including Chancellor Merkel, and US President President Trump.
The euphoria of Chequers did not last the weekend. The PM now must fight for her position.