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Michael Gove’s Brexit ‘war Cabinet’ draws up secret plan

Michael Gove’s Brexit ‘war Cabinet’ draws up secret plan

Secret plans have been drawn up by Michael Gove’s Brexit ‘war Cabinet’ to freeze business in the Commons next month to stop Remainers hijacking No Deal, The Mail on Sunday can reveal.

The legal framework needed to leave the European Union on October 31 could be passed by MPs afterwards, Ministers were told on Tuesday.

Theresa May‘s Government had previously insisted that five separate Bills – covering customs, immigration and trade – were needed before any kind of Brexit.

Secret plans: Mr Gove has drawn up the scheme in a bid to drive through Brexit 

But a new paper presented by Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg has destroyed that notion. Instead, he says a series of ‘statutory instruments’ – legal tweaks done with the flick of a ministerial pen without a vote – would be enough.

The stark decree will infuriate MPs of all parties trying to sabotage Boris Johnson’s plan for No Deal, and Downing Street will face accusations that it will leave the UK in a legal limbo.

Three birds with the code to Brexit

To make sure the country doesn’t get into a flap after a No Deal Brexit, the Government has launched several operations named after birds. The first was Yellowhammer last year. The actual bird has a distinctive call, though rather worryingly in view of fears about food shortages, it is said to sound like ‘a little bit of bread with no cheese’.

Last week, Operation Kingfisher was announced. This is a Treasury-backed cash injection into British businesses that face going under after we take wing from the EU at the end of October. Unfortunately, the colourful riverside bird is vulnerable to hard winters.

The latest codeword is Black Swan, which refers to worst-case scenarios as we leave the Brussels birdcage. This large waterfowl can be found in a loose group… but is often alone.     

Mr Gove, who chairs daily meetings of the EU Exit Operations committee and is in charge of Whitehall’s No Deal planning, has told Government departments to ‘minimise legislation’ before November to avoid showdowns with Remainer Labour and Lib Dem MPs, who plan to join forces with Tory rebels to thwart Mr Johnson.

The Prime Minister has pledged that the UK will leave the EU ‘by any means possible’ on Halloween. But MPs will return on September 3 for two weeks vowing to block Brexit.

Anti-Brexit campaigners such as former Tory Attorney General Dominic Grieve will try to wrestle control of the parliamentary calendar to extend Commons hours in a bid to derail No Deal, possibly cancelling a planned recess during the party conference season. Mr Gove is leading the charge on No Deal planning and he used the first full meeting of the new Cabinet to attack former Chancellor Philip Hammond. He declared that ‘previously there had been those who had seen preparation for No Deal as a distraction’.

Since then Mr Gove has chaired a dozen meetings of the Brexit war Cabinet – known as XO – which meets in a room in the basement of the Cabinet Office every weekday at 10.30am.

Ministers who are away can use video or phone links, as Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab did throughout last week during his visit to the US, Canada and Mexico to explore new trade deals after Brexit.

Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill and Mr Johnson’s powerful aide Dominic Cummings sit in on XO meetings, with Revenue & Customs chief Sir Jonathan Thompson the only mandarin with a full-time position.

Four large screens are updated throughout the meeting and display ‘actions’ for departments and Ministers to take.

Pushing ahead with Brexit: Mr Johnson has been forging ahead with planning for October 31

One committee member said: ‘It’s pacy stuff. We are running through a lot of detail, with decisions made very quickly. We have sorted out more in two weeks than in the whole previous year. Before, the Treasury was blocking everything, demanding to know what the business case of every tiny thing was, whereas things are serious now and ten to 15 actions are agreed every day.’

The MoS can also reveal that the central tenets of the Government’s No Deal planning have been agreed by XO. A source who attends the meetings said: ‘All decisions are framed through protecting security, flow and revenue, in that order.’

Public safety and national security are paramount, followed by keeping Britain’s trade flowing and protecting the revenue of the Government and British businesses. XO has also adopted a ‘continuity approach’, with the UK recognising EU standards in the short term to avoid trading chaos. 

Boris and The Saj bonded and talked Election tactics at Chequers while drinking Italian red wine adored by the Duchess of Sussex 

Boris Johnson and Sajid Javid talked Election tactics late into the night while drinking the Italian red wine adored by the Duchess of Sussex.

The Prime Minister invited the Chancellor and his wife Laura for dinner last weekend at Chequers, marking a dramatic easing of the tension between No 10 and No 11 Downing Street exhibited by their predecessors.

Mr Javid arrived at the Buckinghamshire estate with a stash of £80 Tignanello, a Tuscan red that Mr Johnson admitted was his favourite wine last month, and the Chancellor claims to have enjoyed for years.

The Duchess of Sussex loves the luxury tipple so much that she even named her now-defunct lifestyle blog The Tig.

Mr Johnson’s girlfriend Carrie Symonds, who had previously served as an adviser to Mr Javid, was also present at the dinner.

The event marked a clear reset in relations between the two most powerful offices in Government, with Mr Javid given the green light by the Prime Minister to attend any important Downing Street meetings.

Insiders say their relationship is much more similar to the one enjoyed by David Cameron and George Osborne, as opposed to their successors, Theresa May and Philip Hammond respectively. A source said: ‘By the end of the last Government, Theresa and Philip could barely stand the sight of each other. Boris and Sajid couldn’t be more different.’

The insider added: ‘They know that the relationship between them will have an impact on the functioning of government and there is goodwill on both sides to make it strong – unlike before.

‘It helps that this Chancellor will be seen as an asset to the party.

‘Sajid is back in the inner circle by attending the PM’s morning meetings. They’re so close that they share a joke – not only has Boris adopted his leadership policies but his wine too.’

As his first policy announcement after taking power, Mr Johnson said 20,000 new police officers would be recruited, which had been Mr Javid’s flagship promise during the Tory leadership election.

During the campaign, Mr Johnson told the website Politico Playbook: ‘Someone bought me a crate of Tignanello and I had no idea how expensive it was. I was just glugging it back.’

He added: ‘It’s extraordinary stuff, it was delicious. I discovered later that it was the favourite wine of Meghan Markle. I was so amazed by this wine, I thought, “What is this stuff?” ’ 

Inspection of goods coming into the UK will be limited, with Britain adopting Brussels regulations temporarily on imports, medicines testings, live animal exports and data sharing.

The stance was adopted after lobbying by the car industry, which warned that production at UK plants would be shut down if there were dramatic changes immediately after exit day. Arrangements for a five-month standstill on airline, rail and haulage rules, which were agreed in principle with the EU before the abortive attempt to leave in March, will also be reconsidered.

Mr Gove’s committee has full control over Operation Yellowhammer, the codename for No Deal contingency planning, as well as Operation Kingfisher, an emergency support package for British businesses affected by No Deal, which was first revealed by this newspaper in February. The avian code words were drawn at random by a Whitehall computer and they have now been joined by another – Black Swan – for worst-case scenarios. 

Last week, Mr Cummings and Mr Johnson’s policy adviser Oliver Lewis summoned all department aides to No 10 and gave them 48 hours to unearth every potential ‘Black Swan’ problem.

Mr Cummings said he did not care ‘how bad the problems are as long as you tell us’. And he warned that if major issues were unearthed later, he would sack the special advisers and ministerial aides responsible. He warned them not to allow the Civil Service to cause difficulties, saying: ‘You have been personally authorised by the office of the Prime Minister to undertake this work, and if anyone has a problem with that, tell them to call me.’

Potential ‘Black Swans’ include businesses suffering from ‘No Deal fatigue’ or a ‘disbelief that it will occur’, so dragging their feet in planning.

There are major fears that in the long term, two of the UK’s six main oil refineries could close because imports would become cheaper, triggering a ‘significant impact on local economies and regional fuel supply’.

The Brexit war cabinet has accepted that food prices will rise in the case of No Deal, with the increased costs continuing into the next decade, and it has been warned that the courts face being overwhelmed with cases of increased ‘volume and complexity’ due to changes from EU to UK law.

But the main concern is still the Irish border, where Ministers have agreed a short-term model of ‘no checks with limited exceptions’.

But they admit this is ‘unsustainable in the long term’ and a new agreement with Dublin and Brussels will be needed. In a chilling warning, the Brexit planners were told last week that No Deal would see Irish ‘criminals and dissident groups operating with greater threat and impunity’.

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