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Michael Gove would back 'blind Brexit'

The environment secretary Michael Gove, has arrived at the perhaps startling view that the least worst option now is what some are styling Credit: PA

I cannot find a minister or Tory MP, outside of the PM’s immediate circle, who believes her Chequers Brexit plan is viable - partly because too many Tory MPs and members loathe it, and partly because its central elements on customs and goods trade are anathema to the EU’s negotiators.

So what next?

Well my understanding is that one of the Brexit campaign’s two big beasts, the environment secretary Michael Gove, has arrived at the perhaps startling view that the least worst option now is what some are styling “a blind Brexit”.

This would be to recognise that parliament is too divided and too much time has already been wasted for a detailed plan for our future relationship with the EU to be negotiated and agreed in time for the summits in October or December.

Instead the withdrawal agreement - which formalises a default plan to keep open the Northern Ireland border and around £40bn of divorce payments by the UK - would be ratified by EU leaders, together with the highest level guiding principles for the UK’s future relationship with the EU.

In other words, we would leave the EU not having a clue whether Brexit would ultimately involve membership of the single market like Norway, or the customs union like Turkey, or associate status like Ukraine or having a Canadian style free trade agreement.

To repeat, Brexit on 29 March 2019 would be blind.

So why would a Brexiter like Gove opt for the final nature of Brexit being fudged to the ultimate degree?

Well partly because - as the FT has reported - the Germany is signalling that such a general statement of intent is the best they are prepared to concede before Brexit day.

And also because the alternatives for him - including perhaps irresistible pressure for a referendum - would be far worse.

If Chequers is dead, there may well be a cross party majority of MPs and Lords who would back Norway-style membership of the single market and also membership of a customs union, what True Brexiters would see as reducing the UK to the status of EU vassal or serf forever.

And, as I say, there is also growing parliamentary and popular pressure for a Brexit plebiscite - which would bring the significant risk of Brexit being reversed.

Gove calculates that this pressure for a referendum would be stalled if it became impossible with a blind Brexit to argue that the PM had secured a bad deal - in that she would not have any deal worth the name.

So how likely is a blind Brexit?

Well lots of Gove’s erstwhile Brexiter chums would go bonkers if that is where the PM lands - because they would fear, legitimately, that if tough choices are fudged now, what they think of as true Brexit would never be achieved.

That said Gove will have allies among the pragmatists and Remainers in the parliamentary Tory party. And Corbyn’s divided Labour party might also welcome being let off the Brexit hook.

So perhaps we should start to brace ourselves for leaving the EU with our eyes shut.