Brexit split: where do key cabinet ministers stand?

Boris Johnson, Philip Hammond and David Davis have very different visions for post-EU Britain

David Davis, Boris Johnson and Theresa May
The then-Brexit Secretary David Davis, then-Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Theresa May in 2017
(Image credit: Peter Nicholls/WPA Pool/Getty Images)

The Prime Minister will chair a special meeting of the cabinet later today ahead of her much-anticipated Brexit speech in Florence tomorrow.

Theresa May is due to set out her vision for post-Brexit Britain in a bid to jumpstart negotiations with Brussels, but first she must face senior ministers who remain as divided as ever over the best way to navigate the UK’s exit from the EU.

The deepening rift “serves as a reminder to EU leaders, if they needed it, that Britain has entered formal negotiations without having first worked out what kind of Brexit it actually seeks”, says the Financial Times.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

So where do key ministers stand?

Boris Johnson

The Foreign Secretary has spent much of this week deflecting accusations of “back seat driving” after he published his own Brexit blueprint without No. 10 approval. Johnson denies a cabinet split, but many of the views expressed in his article differ strongly from those of his colleagues. He favours a short transition period of roughly six months, wants a Canada-style trade deal and has said that leaving the EU without a deal would be “perfectly OK”.

Johnson wants a Brexit that would “fulfil the lofty promises” of the Vote Leave referendum campaign, including restoring sovereignty, reclaiming £350m a week to spend more on the NHS and delivering deregulation, says The Guardian. “Anything less would lead to some sorely disappointed voters and weaken his chances of succeeding May.”

Who is backing him? International trade secretary Liam Fox, Environment Secretary Michael Gove

Phillip Hammond

The former Remainer is an outspoken advocate for a softer departure from the union that prioritises the interests of the British economy over issues of sovereignty. The Chancellor has conceded that the UK must leave the single market and customs union, but wants to replicate these arrangements as closely as possible.

He wants a Brexit “that does as little damage to businesses as possible [and he] has little regard for honouring the promises of the leave campaign if he feels they would lead to a worsening of the economy and public finances”, says The Guardian. The Financial Times agrees. Unlike many of his colleagues, Hammond wants a lengthy transitional arrangement of up to three years after Britain leaves the EU in March 2019 so that “UK business does not fall off a cliff”, the paper says.

Who is backing him? Home Secretary Amber Rudd, Chief Whip Gavin Williamson and Defence Secretary Michael Fallon

David Davis

The Brexit Secretary falls somewhere between hardline eurosceptics and former Remainers. A self-declared “determined optimist”, Davis says he is seeking a “seamless” trade deal which is in “everyone’s best interests” but offers few specifics. He accepts the UK still has significant financial obligations to Brussels but won’t name a figure, and backs a transitional period but refuses to say how long it should last.

Davis is “acutely aware” of the responsibility on his shoulders and the “potential for a public reckoning should his rhetoric about a successful deal fall short of reality”, says The Times. “He listens to arguments and changes his mind in the face of the evidence,” an official in his department told the newspaper. “That puts him apart from other Brexiteers.”

Who is backing him? Theresa May and her de facto deputy, Damian Green

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.