“No deal is better than a bad deal,” Theresa May told Jeremy Paxman during the 2017 general election campaign. Almost exactly two months on, her Chancellor, Philip Hammond, has declared the UK will seek a transitional deal that could last three years.
Hammond’s comments come a day after government ministers contradicted themselves over when free movement could end. “Strong and stable”, the Tory campaign slogan, has gone the way of Labour’s Ed Stone.
Here’s a selection of times government ministers have contradicted each other over Brexit.
1. Free movement
Brandon Lewis vs Amber Rudd and Michael Gove
The immigration minister Brandon Lewis declared on 27 July that a new immigration system would be in place from the spring of 2019.
But his departmental boss, the home secretary Amber Rudd, said the same day that there would be an “implementation period” while the flow of EU workers continued and there would be no cliff edge.
Meanwhile, environment secretary Michael Gove and non-expert Brexiteer said days earlier that there was likely to be a transitional period where free movement continued for two years.
2. Chlorinated chicken
Michael Gove vs Liam Fox
One question emerging from discussion of a potential UK-US trade deal was whether chlorine-washed chicken would be allowed into British supermarkets. The international trade secretary Liam Fox said such chicken was “perfectly safe”.
He may not have been round to Michael Gove’s recently for dinner, then. The environment secretary said he opposed the import of chlorine-washed chicken and that “we are not going to dilute our high food-safety standards” in pursuit of “any trade deal”.
3. Moon landings
David Davis vs Liam Fox
In June, Brexit secretary David Davis suggested the negotiations to leave the EU were more complicated than landing on the moon.
His fellow Brexiteer Liam Fox, on the other hand, said in July that a future UK-EU trade deal should be “the easiest in human history”. Then again, maybe he just has a different definition of easy.
4. Single market and customs union
David Davis vs Philip Hammond
Perhaps one reason the Brexit secretary is finding it so tricky is that on 27 June he told a conference he plans to leave the single market and customs union by March 2019.
But the Chancellor, aka the Mopper Up of Economic Mess, stressed Britain was heading down a “smooth and orderly path”.
5. EU army
Michael Fallon vs Boris Johnson
In 2016, fresh from a Leave campaign which warned of the dangers of an EU army, foreign secretary Boris Johnson voiced his support for… an EU army.
Defence secretary Michael Fallon, though, had previously said the UK would continue to resist any rival to Nato.
6. The migration cap
Theresa May vs David Davis and Philip Hammond
As home secretary, Theresa May defended the net migration cap, an idea the Tories thought up while in opposition, even though in practice it was widely criticised and never met. Even though, according to the George Osborne-edited Evening Standard, none of her colleagues privately back the target, it has stayed under her premiership.
Some ministers have publicly questioned it as well. As early as March, Davis said immigration might go up after the UK leaves the EU. In June, Hammond said the system for businesses recruiting foreign workers would not be more “onerous” than it is at present.