Cabinet minister slaps down 'unacceptable' No 10 threat to axe security ties with Ireland
Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith has slammed an "unacceptable" threat from a senior Number 10 official to cancel security cooperation with Ireland, as Government splits over Brexit burst into the open.
The Cabinet minister slapped down the suggestion - believed to have been floated by Boris Johnson's most senior aide Dominic Cummings - that Britain could ditch shared security arrangements with EU countries that back a fresh delay to Britain's departure from the bloc.
In a lengthy anonymous briefing to The Spectator, the official suggested Number 10 could punish the remaining 27 EU member states if they support extending Article 50 beyond October 31.
The official said: "We will make clear privately and publicly that countries which oppose delay will go the front of the queue for future cooperation - cooperation on things both within and outside EU competences.
"Those who support delay will go to the bottom of the queue."
And the article says the aide "also made clear that defence and security cooperation will inevitably be affected if the EU tries to keep Britain in against the will of its government".
But, speaking after a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday morning, Mr Smith said: "I am clear that any threat on withdrawing security cooperation with Ireland is unacceptable. This is not in the interest of NI or the Union."
Meanwhile the Prime Minister's official spokesperson also distanced Mr Johnson from the idea.
"The Prime Minister has set out clearly on any number of occasions that we continue to have a close security partnership with our EU colleagues," they said.
Earlier, a Number 10 source did not deny Mr Cummings was behind the briefing to The Spectator, saying the comments were "the strong view of a senior Number 10 official".
Amber Rudd, the former Tory Cabinet minister, meanwhile branded the comments “angry and desperate”, and said the lack of denial from Number 10 meant she could "only assume it’s come from the centre, from the Prime Minister’s adviser, and the style of it seems to imply that”.
Ms Rudd, who lost the Conservative whip for helping MPs pass a law aimed at thwarting a no-deal Brexit at the end of October, added: "I think it’s Dominic Cummings, otherwise it would have been heavily denied and heads would have rolled."
NO DEAL PLANS
The row at the top of Government came as ministers spelled out their latest plans for a no-deal Brexit, including proposals for a "significant increase" in border staff and a new helpline to businesses prepare for a hard exit.
Mr Johnson has repeatedly stated the Britain will leave the EU "come what may" on 31 October, although MPs have passed a law calling for him to request a further Brexit delay from the EU if he cannot strike a deal by 19 October.
The latest report on no-deal planning includes a vow to set up a dedicated "support unit" for medical goods suppliers to ensure that such firms are prepared for new customs arrangements that would kick in in the event of a no-deal exit.
Michael Gove, the Cabinet minister in charge of preparing for a no deal Brexit, said: "It is the top priority of this Government, and principal focus of my job, to get ready for Brexit on 31 October with or without a deal.
"We would prefer to leave with a deal, and continue to work in an energetic and determined way to achieve one, but we must be prepared for all eventualities."
Mr Gove added: "At every point, the Government will be candid about any further challenges ahead as well as clear-eyed about the opportunities. Together, government, businesses and citizens are working so that we will be ready for Brexit on 31 October– and can look forward to the future with certainty and confidence."