Cabinet divisions over Brexit remain as entrenched as ever despite a crunch meeting of Theresa May’s top ministers, HuffPost UK has been told.
The 11-strong members of the Cabinet’s Brexit subcommittee met on Wednesday afternoon for the first of two get-togethers to thrash out details of the UK’s EU departure.
Ahead of the meeting, pressure was growing on Theresa May to set out exactly what she wants from the Brexit deal and clarify the future customs arrangements between the UK and the EU.
Chancellor Philip Hammond has also come under fire for suggesting the UK and EU should only move “very modestly” apart on rules and regulations after Brexit.
The differences in opinion on the Brexit end state has led arch-Leavers to call for Hammond to be sacked, and rumours of a planned coup to install Boris Johnson as Prime Minister were reported over the weekend.
Home Secretary Amber Rudd told the BBC on Sunday that Brexiteers would be surprised to learn the subcommittee is “more united than they think”, but Wednesday’s meeting to discuss Northern Ireland and immigration failed to bear that out.
A well-placed Cabinet source described the meeting as “robust”, and said: “People lived up to their stereotypes.”
The subcommittee is due to meet again on Thursday to discuss the UK’s future trading relationship with the EU.
Of the eleven members of the committee, seven campaigned for Remain in the 2016 EU referendum: Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley; Business Secretary Greg Clark; Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson; Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington; Chancellor Philip Hammond; Home Secretary Amber Rudd; and Prime Minister Theresa May.
The four members who backed Leave are International Trade Secretary Liam Fox; Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson; Brexit Secretary David Davis; and Environment Secretary Michael Gove.
After the meeting had finished, David Davis told a meeting of backbench Tory MPs the party needed to stay focused on delivering Brexit, and not get distracted by rows around process.
Flanked by Brexit ministers Steve Baker and Suella Fernandes, Davis was emphatic as he told MPs: “We are leaving the customs union.”
Earlier on Wednesday, International Trade Minister Greg Hands came unstuck during an interview on the BBC’s Daily Politics when he was unable to confirm whether the Government wanted the UK to stay in the customs union during a two-year implementation period.
Hands was left to mutter “I’m the International Trade Minister” after presenter Andrew Neil asked him: “Do you have any idea what you’re talking about?”