Chris Grayling held key Brexit strategy meeting in Balham Wetherspoons
The senior Tory met a leading Brexit campaigner in the south London pub
A key meeting to thrash out an early Brexit strategy took place in a cheap pub in Balham, it has emerged.
In 1994, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown are said to have chosen the Granita restaurant in Islington to discuss the next steps for leading the Labour party.
But in 2016, senior Tory Chris Grayling and Vote Leave chief executive Matthew Elliott opted for more workaday surroundings to agree their next moves on Brexit.
Namely the Balham Wetherspoons.
“We needed to force the PM’s hand,” writes Elliott in an article published on the BrexitCentral website.
“His goal was very clearly to muzzle the Cabinet – either to prevent them coming out to campaign for Leave, or at the very least to prevent them from doing so until as late as possible.”
“Over a pint at The Moon Under Water, Chris and I talked through the strategy, which was refined over Christmas and into the New Year. The final plan was that Chris and Theresa Villiers – who’d been brought on board by Dan Hannan – would each ask to see the Prime Minister after Cabinet.
"In those meetings, they would tell him that they wanted to campaign for Brexit when the deal was reached, and would resign from the Government immediately if they weren’t allowed to campaign while remaining a minister."
Elliott adds: “The fateful meeting took place on 4th January. I’m told Chris was grey with nerves… I texted him that morning wishing him good luck and calling it a 'historic moment' – and I wasn’t wrong. If Downing Street backed down, we would have Cabinet members on our side. If it stood firm, our most high-profile supporter could have ended up being Nigel Farage.”
In the event, the Brexiteers need not have worried. Elliott recalls that Grayling was told by David Cameron that there was no need for him to resign, because he had decided to allow ministers to campaign on either side in the referendum - providing they waited until the deal with the EU was secured.
The former Vote Leave chief concludes: “Inside Downing Street, they apparently saw this as a great victory: ministers would have to stick to the Government line for almost another two months. But from our perspective, Chris and Theresa had forced the PM to openly admit that he would let Leavers remain as ministers, rather than having to resign in order to campaign. That meant that others would be able to sign up without worrying about what it would do for their careers.
“It was also the first step in the chain. Having ministers who were as reputable and experienced as Grayling and Villiers made us look like a proper campaign. And it made it that bit more likely that the other ministers would agree to come over.”