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Monday 2 July 2018

With the prime minister’s Brexit white paper awaiting Cabinet approval, Jacob Rees-Mogg has made what could prove to be a decisive intervention against it. In a Telegraph op-ed, the Brexit hero warns Theresa May against a soft departure from the EU. He cites Sir Robert Peel’s ruinous dependence on the opposition, which split the Tories in two, keeping them out of office for almost three decades.

While the Peel effect is an additional strategic consideration, the merits of a clean withdrawal remain as obvious as ever:

“There are some things that no independent nation could agree to. Any attempt by the EU to impose its laws and court on the U.K., either directly or indirectly, must be rejected. Any EU agreement that restricts the country’s ability to make trade agreements with other states, restricts our ability to control our migration policy, makes us pay to trade or interferes with our fishing waters could not be accepted.”

The BBC reports this morning that Whitehall has now drafted its third customs model after the previous two were either rejected by the Cabinet or Brussels, or both. It is likely that a goods only Single Market arrangement will be pitched to the whole Cabinet at Friday’s not-so-crunch meeting at Chequers, which will then form the basis of the white paper.

This third model has been a long time coming, all the while May’s man in Brussels, Olly Robbins has been tapping up his EU counterparts relentlessly. No doubt he will be able to present the new customs model to ministers with the added leverage of assurances from Michel Barnier that the EU will accept it. This is why Mogg’s piece is so critical.

Rees-Mogg’s words come with the backing of more than fifty MPs, published a couple of days after a similar warning, a letter written by Andrea Jenkyns to the PM and signed by thirty MPs.

Given May’s increasingly fragile position, rumours rage of leadership challenges. According to the Express, JRM himself has raised a £750,000 war chest for his own campaign. The Telegraph says Sajid Javid, Michael Gove, Jeremy Hunt and Gavin Williamson are all “on manoeuvres”. Hunt is a curious candidate. A committed Remainer up until the Referendum, last Sunday he made an uncharacteristic rebuke of Airbus over its doomsday warnings.

Only now, two years on from the Referendum earthquake are Tory grandees beginning to recognise where the new faultiness are. For a conservative, there’s little political capital to be had from bashing the Remain drum. Hunt knows this.

Higher defence spending is another understandably popular area. Gavin Williamson’s number one priority since becoming defence secretary late last year has been to get the Treasury to raise it. His mission may now be over.

A shocking letter from Williamson’s opposite number in Washington, James Mattis warns that Britain’s status as a tier one military power is “at risk of erosion”. The letter, leaked to the Sun, bluntly makes reference to France’s recent hikes in expenditure, a not so subtle indication that unless Britain gets its act together, the US’s special relationship will be with our neighbour to the south.

Mattis’s appeal is on purely practical grounds. That’s one consideration, the other has been Paris’s superior efforts at developing fruitful ties with Donald Trump’s administration after he was invited by President Macron to France’s military parade to mark its national holiday almost a year ago. Trump will only come to the UK for the first time this month. Unusually for us, the pomp and splendour will not compare. Shameful.

That being said, the Express reports that Trump’s increasingly strained relations with the EU, brought about by Brussels’ retaliation to US increases in import duties on aluminium and steel, can be leveraged by Whitehall in the Brexit negotiations.

“At a time when Donald Trump is looking at a 20% tariff on European cars, the Germans may look favourably on a deal that avoids trade barriers with their biggest export market for cars,” said one senior official.

Another said: “Go back to the G7 summit. Theresa May was the closest ally of the German chancellor and French president.

“Now, set that against the renewed tensions in the EU. Ultimately, is Brexit something they want to get done and move on from? Or do they want to create another crisis and keep it alive as an issue?”