At a Brexit fringe event earlier this evening at the Conservative conference, Andrea Leadsom did not disguise her differences with Theresa May. The Commons leader and former Tory leadership candidate told the event, hosted by the Centre for European Reform, that the UK would not only leave the EU in March 2019 but “take back control” of its “money, borders and laws”.
This, I noted in a question to her, contradicted the government’s new stance. Under the proposed two-year Brexit transition period, the UK would continue to pay EU budget contributions, accept free movement (in all but name) and abide by European Court of Justice rulings. “I know collective responsibility is a flexible concept in today’s cabinet,” I said. “But can you really remain in government?”
Leadsom replied: “In terms of myself, and can I stay in the cabinet, it’s absolutely clear, I shall be in the cabinet just as long as the Prime Minister wants me to be – and I can also tell you that the same is true of Boris [Johnson]. He’s fantastic but I’d love him to go the parliamentary hairdresser.”
Leadsom’s fellow panellist Dominic Grieve, the Tory MP and former attorney general, issued a series of warnings over Brexit. “Jeremy Corbyn will benefit,” he told the crowd of a potential fall in living standards. Grieve also warned that “the more ideological hurdles” the UK created, the harder it would be to achieve a reasonable Brexit deal. “Can you have a revolution without victims?” he asked in closing. The answer, he implied, was no.
Update: Leadsom told the New Statesman: “The PM has set out a very clear plan for Brexit that will ensure certainty for the UK as we leave the EU – and I have made clear my full support for that.”