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2 July 2018updated 03 Jul 2018 7:19am

For all the Brexiteers’ bluster, there’s only one man in charge of Brexit

What Theresa May's “third way” on customs will look like is of secondary importance to the fact that only Olly Robbins knows the answer. 

By Patrick Maguire

Anyone for fudge? After months of wrangling over which customs model the UK should adopt after Brexit, Theresa May is to ditch the two options ministers had been debating in favour of a “third way”, to be revealed when the cabinet meets at Chequers this Friday. 

Nobody – not least members of the government – yet knows what it is. That fact alone tells us much more about how the government handles Brexit than the model itself eventually will. 

The existence of a model known to No 10, and No 10 alone, proves that, for all their bluster, cabinet Leavers like David Davis and Boris Johnson have very little to do with shaping Brexit. That job belongs to Olly Robbins, May’s top EU adviser, and virtually nobody else. 

Brexiteers will get to approve or reject any Brexit plan – but little else. They can try and exert pressure, but the concerns of business, expressed within cabinet by Philip Hammond and Greg Clark, are winning the day instead. 

Even if the likes of Davis and Johnson were to deviate from type and actually resign, their means of stopping a softer Brexit would still be limited, if existent at all. Regardless of the composition of cabinet, the fundamental problem would remain: Robbins, not ministers, is running the show, and he is no longer listening to them.

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