Friday, 15 February 2019

Cabinet papers

Yesterday in parliament was, as a number of members of parliament noted, rather like groundhog day. Yet again the House of Commons was being asked to endorse the government's plan for leaving the European Union. On this occasion, the government motion merely asked the House to reiterate its position of the 29th of January. And so, with minor variations mainly for reasons of stylistic variation, the same set pieces were once more rehearsed.

However, there were some significant changes to this drama. Firstly, due to the way the government motion was worded, which incorporated, not only its own previous motion and the amendment it had supported, but also the Spelman motion (which opposes leaving without a deal), which it had opposed, the government secured its own defeat. Secondly, and much more significantly, Anna Soubry moved an amendment that would have required the government to publish papers the Cabinet had discussed on the impact of leaving the European Union without a deal. At the conclusion of the debate, the minister asked Soubry to withdraw her amendment on the basis that the government would publish (against all precedent) the said papers. Soubry agreed.

When Soubry had moved the amendment, she made it clear that she knew at least the gist of what the papers concluded and the gist of the Cabinet discussion and that a number of members of the Cabinet had called for the papers to be made public. This astonishing revelation was met with remarkably little comment from the rest of the House. And indeed, the corporate media seem to be remarkably incurious about how a backbencher had access to the proceedings of the Cabinet.

Nor do I know how Soubry knows what happens in the Cabinet. However, such access could only be as a result of a leak from a member of the Cabinet. The obvious suspect would be Amber Rudd (a Remainer). Yet Rudd is loyal to Theresa May and it is unthinkable that she would leak to Sourby (an arch, some might even say, hysterical Remainer) without at least the tacit approval of May (a Remainer), which leads to the inevitable conclusion that the prime minister is actively undermining the constitution, specifically Cabinet government, collective responsibility and privilege in order to exert parliamentary advantage. The advantage for Theresa May in having these papers published would be to frighten both Leavers and Remainers into voting for her Withdrawal Agreement.

There are a number of ironies in this tactic; not least of which is the use of Soubry by the government to push Remainers into voting to leave the European Union, which is precisely the opposite of what Soubry wants.

I have never been particularly impressed with Theresa May's skills as a politician. But, if my speculations about the Soubry amendment are correct, it seems May is actually student of both Machiavelli and Sun Tzu, which causes me to doubt my specualtions.

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