Britain’s Brexit War Cabinet
May 8, 2018 -- Prime Minister Theresa May’s Strategy and Negotiations committee, referred to as “The SN”, is an 11-member Cabinet sub-committee tasked with the UK’s “end state” -- Britain’s withdrawal and future relationship with the EU.
The SN is officially called the European Union Exit and Trade (Strategy and Negotiations) sub-committee. SN Cabinet ministers and their Principal Private Secretaries meet regularly in closely-guarded privacy to decide the detail of Brexit policies before presenting it to full 23-member Cabinet for discussion and approval.
Prime Minister Theresa May chairs the SN which is made up of five Leave and five Remain ministers.
The pro-EU lobby includes Philip Hammond, Chancellor; David Lidington, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster; Greg Clark, Business and Energy Secretary; Karen Bradley, Northern Ireland Secretary and newcomer Sajid Javid, Home Secretary -- once an outspoken Eurosceptic.
The eurosceptics on the SN include David Davis, Brexit Secretary; Boris Johnson, Foreign Secretary; Liam Fox, International Trade Secretary; Michael Gove, Environment Secretary and Gavin Williamson, Defence Secretary -- Williamson backed Remain in the referendum, but is now a Brexiteer.
Of the faces around the table, the civil servants include Sir Jeremy Heywood, Cabinet secretary and head of the Civil Service, and Olly Robbins, Theresa May’s so-called “Sherpa” -- a public servant who prepares a leader for a Summit. Robbins coordinates discussions with the European Commission’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier and his team and acts as a behind-the-scenes fixer when talks stall in Brussels.
According to individuals familiar with the weekly SN meetings, preparation begins with individual Cabinet ministers and their departments making policy proposals. The Cabinet Office collects these submissions, and -- under the guidance of Robbins and Heywood -- they are transformed into position papers.
On the night before the meeting, usually Tuesday night, policy papers are circulated to SN Cabinet ministers -- this reduces the time for pro- and anti-Brexit factions to plot their strategies.
At the SN, Robbins sets out various policy options in the papers. Theresa May then initiates discussion; reportedly, this is often heated and impassioned. The SN position is put before full Cabinet for review and approval the next day, Thursday.