EMMANUEL MACRON will arrive in Britain late next week for an Anglo-French summit.
The French President will bring with him half a dozen of his top team. They will sit down with Theresa May and several senior Cabinet ministers at Sandhurst, the officer training college that both Princes William and Harry attended.
The focus, appropriately, will be on defence. The agenda spans everything from terrorism to Macron’s campaign against “fake news”.
It should be the perfect setting for Mrs May to bend Macron’s ear about Brexit. The whole event is a reminder of the importance of the Anglo-French security relationship which will matter long after Brexit is done.
But Mrs May’s ability to lobby Macron will be hurt by the fact that the UK Government still hasn’t agreed on precisely what kind of Brexit deal it wants.
Chancellor Philip Hammond might be justified in complaining that the EU hasn’t been clear either. But the onus is on Britain to explain how it wants the future relationship to work.
EPA Emmanuel Macron will arrive in Britain late next week for an Anglo-French summit AFP or licensors It should be the perfect setting for Mrs May to bend Macron’s ear about Brexit – but here ability to lobby Macron will be hurt by the fact the UK Government hasn’t agreed on what kind of deal it wants
Before Christmas, the Brexit inner Cabinet and the Cabinet discussed the final deal they wanted to reach with the EU for the first time. The meetings, though, were more a chance for everyone to have their say than an opportunity to take decisions.
At the first Cabinet meeting of this year, Brexit was not on the agenda. It is not on next week’s either. So there’ll be no collectively agreed policy in the next few weeks.
However, I understand that the Brexit inner Cabinet will have a two-hour meeting next week to begin the process of thrashing out the UK position.
Getty Images – Getty Emmanuel Macron will sit down with Theresa May and several senior Cabinet ministers at Sandhurst – Prince William will also attend
Members of the committee expect there will be three of these meetings before the PM gives her big speech setting out what the UK wants, which is now expected next month.
One of those involved in preparing for these meeting cautions that we should not expect much to be sorted at next week’s session of the inner Cabinet. “Some issues are so large they can’t be resolved at a single meeting,” I’m told.
I understand the aim is to get a “general sense of the collective approach” on nine key issues, rather than to agree every detail.
Those in the Cabinet who favour a more gradual Brexit think things are coming their way. They believe that “the practical reality of Ireland, what the EU will offer and the desire to avoid crashing out without a deal” will push things their way.
Getty – Contributor As will Prince Harry
But those who favour the UK doing its own thing more quickly believe the balance has shifted in their favour with the conversion of the Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson to their cause.
But Mrs May needs to make up her mind quickly. For until she does, the UK can’t push for its own preferred solution.
The lack of a detailed Government prospectus for Brexit is also creating a vacuum that politicians hunting for a purpose, such as Nigel Farage and Tony Blair, are filling with their talk of a second referendum.
Mrs May has never taken decisions quickly. But this vacuum is damaging the Government at home and abroad. The sooner she says what Britain wants, the better.
Prime Minister Theresa May is asked to rate how well Brexit is going on a scale of 1 to 10 at PMQs
James Forsyth is political editor of The Spectator
Shuffling the shuffled Tory pack
SEVERAL of those who didn’t get the promotion they were hoping for in this reshuffle have been reassured that there’ll be another within the next 12 months, and possibly as early as the autumn.
PA:Press Association There is concern in Cabinet circles that the decisions taken after Justine Greening turned down the job of Welfare Secretary could come back to haunt the Government
Officially, No10 are cool on this suggestion. But one Theresa May confidant tells me: “The likelihood of another reshuffle before too long is significant.”
The thinking behind it goes like this.
First, this reshuffle was meant to create a conveyor belt of talent. So surely it makes sense to crack on with promoting them so the Tory top team can be freshened up. Sam Gyimah, made universities minister in this reshuffle, is already being tipped for Cabinet by senior No10 figures. The second argument is that this reshuffle was meant to show Mrs May’s authority but ended up advertising her weakness.
All of the ins and outs as PM Theresa May tweaks her top team in cabinet reshuffle
So another one is needed to show she really is in charge.
However, other Cabinet ministers argue that the problems of this reshuffle are precisely why Mrs May shouldn’t go for a repeat any time soon.
One thing this reshuffle has highlighted is the need for a beefed-up No10 operation.
As one veteran Tory points out to me: “They don’t have the strength in depth to have explanatory conversations with senior Cabinet ministers.”
This is why no one sounded out Jeremy Hunt about moving from Health before he went in to see Mrs May.
There is also concern in Cabinet circles that the decisions taken after Justine Greening turned down the job of Welfare Secretary could come back to haunt the Government.
One Cabinet minister tells me there was a, “sharp intake of breath among all financial departments”, at the appointment of Esther McVey to that role.
DONALD TRUMP’S decision not to come to London for the US Embassy opening is another reminder of how sensitive he is to slights.
But far more important than whether Trump cuts a ribbon or not is what he does about North Korea.
This rogue state’s determination to develop a nuclear weapon that can hit the US mainland remains the biggest single threat to world peace.
If China wants to show it can be a responsible actor on the world stage, it should put a lot more pressure on the North Korean regime to stop its nuclear programme.
Wait for Greening’s rebel tell..
JUSTINE GREENING was the big casualty of this reshuffle, quitting the Government rather than move from Education.
PA The question now is, will Greening – who campaigned to stay in the EU and whose constituency voted heavily to Remain – join the Brexit rebels? Several in the Cabinet expect her to
Her allies lament that she had an “endlessly difficult time with No10”.
The question now is, will Greening – who campaigned to stay in the EU and whose constituency voted heavily to Remain – join the Brexit rebels? Several in the Cabinet expect her to.
But, as one well-connected Tory points out, she might be too ambitious to do that.
“If she doesn’t join the rebellion, that will tell us that she has her eyes on other things”, which could be either the London Mayoralty or, in time, a tilt at the leadership.
Student finance lesson
NUMBER 10 are clear that Jo Johnson was moved from his job as universities minister because he was obstructing a review of tuition fees.
PA:Press Association Jo Johnson was moved from his job as universities minister because he was obstructing a review of tuition fees, according to Number 10
But a big, high-profile review of the student finance system would be a mistake.
Labour are committed to abolishing fees, and the Tories can’t – and shouldn’t – match that policy. So any review will simply raise the profile of a losing issue for the Tories.
Rather than a wholescale review, the Tories should simply fix the unfairly high interest rate that students must pay on their loans and reintroduce mainten-ance grants, which would help poorer students with their living costs.
Then they should start defending the principle of a system that ensures that those who benefit from a university education contribute to the cost of it.