Belfast Telegraph

Brexit storm could turn Cabinet into sackful of self-destructive ferrets

The Government is hardly a vicar's tea party at the best of times, but Johnson and Gove's intervention could derail Theresa May

Another day, another Cabinet calamity. You might well have thought things could hardly have got any worse for the Prime Minister, after losing two Cabinet ministers within the space of a week, and that a period of calm might descend on our political leaders. But you'd be wrong.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Environment Secretary Michael Gove, not so long ago at daggers drawn, have apparently conspired together to write an explosive letter to the Prime Minister, allegedly dictating terms for a hard Brexit.

This memorandum also reportedly urges her to crack down on those ministers who do not agree with this approach, including the Chancellor Philip Hammond, and those Whitehall civil service mandarins who share Hammond's view and are claimed to be doing their utmost to wreck Brexit.

It complained of "insufficient energy" on Brexit in some parts of the Government and insisted any transition period must end in June 2021 - a veiled attack on Hammond.

The memorandum also urged the Prime Minister to ensure members of her top team fall behind their Brexit plans by "clarifying their minds" and called for them to "internalise the logic".

I cannot believe that she will welcome this explosive new development - even if she is sympathetic to some of the views in it.

The Cabinet does not exactly resemble a vicarage garden party as it is. This could transform the Cabinet into a sackful of brawling ferrets.

Perhaps Messrs Johnson and Gove believe this kind of action might devolve to their credit when the time comes for a Tory leadership battle. Both are desperately ambitious. I doubt it, though.

But the big question the British voter will be asking is, whether, after all these shenanigans, these two will have enough time left to do what the taxpayer pays them to do: run their departments.

To put it at its most crude: what on earth did Priti Patel think she was playing at?

Last week, the BBC revealed how she had arranged a number of meetings with business and political figures during a family holiday to Israel in August without telling Downing Street, or the Foreign Office.

It later emerged that, after Ms Patel's visit to Israel, she asked her officials to look into whether Britain could support humanitarian operations conducted by the Israeli army in the occupied Golan Heights area.

The deposed International Development Secretary cannot blame anyone but herself for her ignominious downfall, which is surprising, because she has been moving in political circles at a high level for some time and should have known the ropes.

Elected as an MP in 2010, the prominent Brexiteer became a Treasury minister in 2014, before becoming Employment Minister after the 2015 General Election.

And shortly after Theresa May became Prime Minister, following the June 2016 EU referendum, Patel (45) was promoted to Secretary of State for International Development.

But you don't go abroad on holiday and hold unauthorised talks with overseas political leaders. That can only be done with the express approval of and/or instructions from the Prime Minister herself.

Before she became an MP, Patel was a very senior Conservative Party Press officer, so it is baffling that she seemed to have failed to take on board the diligence and skill of the media to expose the shortcomings of ministers. There is nothing more public than a secret meeting.

Her resignation piles pressure onto May's government, following a string of controversies. The sex harassment scandal has already resulted in the resignation of the Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, while one of the Prime Minister's closest allies, Damian Green, is being investigated by the Cabinet office over allegations.

Meanwhile, there have been calls for May to sack her Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, after an intervention risked lengthening the sentence of a British woman jailed in Iran.

So, sad to say, Priti Patel got what she deserved. She is a talented and likeable person and it would be good to see her back in office sometime.

But I fear some considerable time will have to elapse before that can happen.

Some two yeas ago, many members of both the Labour and Conservative Parties suspected the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader would drive his party into doom and destruction. The Tories were positively gleeful.

How things have changed. Corbyn's unexpectedly impressive performance at the last general election, has changed everyone's views.

Gordon Brown has described Corbyn as a phenomenon, while the Tories fear the perils that could lie ahead for them.

Anyone who thinks the Tory fears are groundless needs to think again.

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