Prime Minister Theresa May is facing a revolt from inside her Cabinet over her plan to keep UK regulations aligned with the European
Union after Brexit, a split that threatens to undermine her chances of breaking the deadlock in negotiations.
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Environment Secretary Michael Gove, who together led the Brexit campaign in last year’s referendum, raised concerns about the proposal, according to people familiar with the matter. Johnson aired his worries during a Cabinet meeting.
With just days to go until a deadline to get talks back on track and the pound sliding for a second day, May is also struggling to get the Northern Irish party that props up her government to sign up to her Brexit strategy. Wednesday had been tipped as the day May could head back to Brussels to resume talks that suffered an
embarrassing breakdown on Monday.
In an effort to find a solution to the Brexit
deadlock and the sensitive Irish border issue, Brexit Secretary David Davis told Parliament he wanted the whole country to remain close to EU economic regulations after the split.
Keeping the whole UK close to EU regulation would make it easier to avoid a border on the island of Ireland without putting up a new barrier between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK — a red line for May’s Northern Irish allies.
Part of the pro-Brexit case advanced by the likes of Johnson and Gove in the last 18 months has been that the divorce will allow the UK to break free from EU rules and chart its own course with free-trade deals around the world.
May has until the end of the week to get back to Brussels with proposals that will satisfy the EU that enough has been done on the terms of the separation to move on to the future relationship between the two trading partners. An EU official said it was the “deadline of deadlines.” Businesses are clamoring for trade talks to start and to get the transition arrangements in place for after the split.
The Irish government views the chances of a deal this month as falling, according to a person familiar with the situation. Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party leader Arlene Foster and May didn’t speak by phone as planned, the BBC reported. Negotiations ended after a lunch between the prime minister and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker was interrupted by a phone call between May and Foster. The DUP rejected what May was set to offer Brussels to unlock negotiations.
The collapse presented May with three unappealing options: change her Brexit policy, risk a constitutional crisis in the UK, or face the prospect of a no-deal split from the EU. The almost invisible border in Ireland now is only possible because both Ireland and the UK are in the European single market.
Both sides were aiming to get close enough
to an agreement this week so that a summit of leaders on Dec. 14 can give the green light for talks to move on to the future relationship early next year. As talks broke down, Juncker was unusually constructive and said he was confident an agreement could be reached by year-end.
Almost 18 months on from the refere-
ndum, the Cabinet has yet to set out the future relationship it wants with the EU.