Does the Brexit memo matter?

Whitehall sign

As Westminster does from time to time, there is a frothing row this morning over where a memo - which purports to reveal the government's private Brexit woes and is splashed on the front of The Times - actually comes from.

To say that Downing Street is cross is an understatement. They are furious at the story emerging, not just because the claims in it are embarrassing and attack the prime minister's style, but because they say the document was not written by anyone with a real understanding of what's going on, but by a consultant, thought to be from the firm Deloitte, whose analysis was part of a pitch for work.

The Times disputes that, saying that senior civil servants were in fact also involved.

Common position

But whoever is right, the document does matter because it underlines what we have reported and others have written about many times.

Five months after the referendum, the cabinet is struggling to agree a common position on what "Brexit means Brexit" really means.

There is a range of opinion around the table, and a vast amount of work has been commissioned across government to help settle on a view. The Department that's working on the plan, DEXEU, (or Dexit as it's easier to call it if we can get it to catch on) has commissioned 51 different studies of different parts of the economy to 'help'.

Real pressure

But as a senior source suggested this week "they just don't know" what they are going to do - the "whole thing is a frightful mess".

Information is piling up, decisions are not. And with a very small majority in the Commons, ministers are worried about losing the arguments and trying to avoid big confrontations.

The prime minister's holding position of "Brexit means Brexit" is coming under real pressure now.

Downing Street was always aware that it couldn't last. But while there is an expectation that the PM might fill in some more of the blanks in a speech at the CBI next week, there is little public sign that the government is actually any closer to any conclusions.

Until that changes they will be vulnerable to the charges laid out in the memo, whoever its author, and the charges of "chaos" from the opposition.

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