Theresa May won’t be alone in leaving government next Wednesday: David Gauke and Philip Hammond, two of the most outspoken opponents of a no-deal Brexit in the outgoing Cabinet, have said they will quit on the afternoon before Boris Johnson takes office.
Both the Justice Secretary and Chancellor told interviewers this morning that they would sooner quit than endorse Johnson’s Brexit policy. Gauke tells the Sunday Times: “If the test of loyalty to stay in the cabinet is a commitment to support no-deal on 31 October which, to be fair to him, Boris has consistently said – then that’s not something I’m prepared to sign up to.
“I recognise that this spell in government is coming to an end. Given that I’ve been in the cabinet since Theresa May came to power, I think the appropriate thing is for me to resign to her.”
Hammond, meanwhile, told this morning’s Andrew Marr Show: “Assuming Boris Johnson becomes the next prime minister, I understand his conditions will include accepting a no-deal exit on 31 October. That’s not something I could ever sign up to, so I intend to tender my resignation to Theresa May.”
Neither admission is surprising. Both ministers have made their opposition to a no-deal outcome repeatedly clear – not just on the airwaves, but in the division lobbies too. Having defied the whip to oppose no-deal – in Gauke’s case repeatedly – it was fairly obvious, as Gauke and Hammond acknowledge, that they were heading for the exit in any case.
In pre-announcing their departure, they have made a deliberate gesture of defiance towards Johnson, who will be denied the pleasure of sacking them and up to a dozen more ministers who will quit on Wednesday. That, along with the unprecedented scale of this week’s Tory rebellion over no-deal, is a sign that the next prime minister will face a much more organised and indeed militant resistance from Conservative Remainers than Theresa May ever did.
Yet the remarks will cause anxiety in the frontrunner’s camp for another reason. Johnson supporters whose preference is for a new deal, or a tweaked withdrawal agreement, are less concerned with what these remarks tell us about the numbers in Westminster than the signal they send to Brussels. Also on Marr this morning was Simon Coveney, the Irish foreign minister, who warned that no-deal would not happen unless MPs actively voted for it.
That line will worry those who believe that leaving without an agreement should be a negotiating gambit rather than an objective in itself. They fear that the louder those determined to stop no-deal shout – be it in Parliament or in interviews with the European press – the less likely any compromise with Dublin or Brussels will become.