Government chief whip says Cabinet is 'worst-disciplined in British political history' and blasts Brexit strategy

Posted On: 
1st April 2019

The current Cabinet has shown "the worst example of ill-discipline" in the history of British politics, the Government's own chief whip has said, as he hit out at Theresa May's Brexit strategy.

Julian Smith, pictured outside Downing Street with Sajid Javid, has criticised his Cabinet colleagues.
Credit: 
PA

In an extaordinary attack, Julian Smith accused senior ministers of "sitting around the Cabinet table... trying to destabilise" the Prime Minister.

He also said the Government should have recognised sooner that the Conservatives' reduced Commons majority at the 2017 election result would "inevitably" make a softer form of Brexit more likely.

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The intervention came amid deep Cabinet divisions over how to break the ongoing deadlock over the UK's exit from the European Union - and as the DUP pledged to vote against Theresa May's deal "a thousand times".

Speaking to the BBC's Laura Kuenssberg for a documentary on Brexit, Mr Smith, who is responsible for enforcing discipline in the Conservative ranks, said: "I'm knackered, dealing with colleagues 24/7, frustrated with the fact that people don't see the light as clearly as I do."

And he added: "As you're aware, discipline is not as good as it should be... This is, I think, the worst example of ill-discipline in Cabinet in British political history."

GOVERNMENT 'SHOULD HAVE BEEN CLEARER'

MPs last week voted to reject Mrs May's Brexit deal for a third time, and will on Monday hold a fresh round of so-called indicative votes to try and find an alternative plan that Parliament can get behind.

But Mr Smith said ministers should have been quicker to recognise the reality of the parliamentary arithmetic in the aftermath of the 2017 election, when the Conservatives lost their Commons majority..

"The thing that people forget is that the Conservative party went to get a majority in order to deliver Brexit, failed to get a majority," he said.

"The Government as a whole probably should have just been clearer [on] the consequences of that. The parliamentary arithmetic would mean that this would be inevitably a kind of softer type of Brexit."

Justice Secretary David Gauke urged the Prime Minister on Sunday not to "ignore" Parliament if it gets behind membership of a customs union with the EU in the indicative votes process.

But that would require the Prime Minister to cross a longstanding red line and Brexiteers fear it would hobble Britain's ability to strike independent trade deals.

Leave-backing Transport Secretary Chris Grayling told the Telegraph: "Are we really going to accept the situation where the government of Lithuania has more power over our trading relationship with the Commonwealth than our government does? That is the reality of the customs union."

DUP: TREAT NORTHERN IRELAND THE SAME

The DUP, whose support will be crucial if Mrs May has any hope of rescuing her Brexit deal, has meanwhile made clear once again that it will continue to oppose it if it contains the backstop arrangement designed to avoid a hard border in Ireland.

The party has repeatedly made clear its objections to the arrangement, which would keep Northern Ireland tied to key EU customs and single market rules if no alternative plan can be drawn up.

The DUP's Brexit spokesperson Sammy Wilson told the BBC's NI News: "Our message to the Prime Minister is do what you should have done at the very start, and what you promised you would do. And that is only sign an agreement which treats Northern Ireland the same as the rest of the United Kingdom."

He added: "That's what you promised to do. That's the route you promised to take and you did not do that. That's why you're in the trouble that you are at present.

"And if she doesn't change her mind, we'll continue to vote for it should she bring it back 100 times... Should she bring it back a thousand times... we will vote against it because the implications for Northern Ireland and far far too serious."