UK Prime Minister Theresa May is preparing to ask the cabinet to approve a draft Brexit deal potentially within days, if she can overcome new resistance to her strategy from euroskeptic Tories in her team.
During a cabinet meeting in London, ministers including the pro-Brexit campaigner Michael Gove demanded to see the full government legal advice underpinning a plan for resolving the deadlock in the UK’s negotiations with the European Union.
While the gathering broke up without agreement after two hours, May’s officials are considering calling a second meeting—potentially to sign off the proposal — later this week, people familiar with the matter said. One person suggested an emergency cabinet meeting could even be held on Saturday in the hope of securing a deal with the EU in Brussels before the end of the month.
“Don’t be under any illusion there is a lot of work to do,” May’s spokesman James Slack told reporters in London.
So far no date has been set for another meeting of May’s top team, but it will be called “at the appropriate moment” before any deal is done in Brussels, he said.
Speculation that a deal was imminent intensified after the BBC and other outlets reported a leaked media-planning timetable that pointed to a deal getting done and presented to Parliament within three weeks.
A government spokesman pointed out misspellings in the text and dismissed the notes as “childish” and not representative of the government’s thinking.
As British ministers fight among themselves over how to break the deadlock in negotiations, business isn’t waiting around for clarity. Tuesday saw a clutch of Brexit-related decisions to quit or scale-back investment in the UK. In the most dramatic development, Bloomberg reported that a $240 billion-a-day short-term financing market is moving from London to Amsterdam, another blow to the City.
The UK will leave the EU with or without a deal on March 29, 2019. While 95 percent of the divorce has been agreed to already, negotiations are still stuck on the thorny question of how to avoid customs checks on the land border between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland.
Unless this issue can be resolved, there will not be a withdrawal agreement at all, and the UK will crash out of the bloc with no deal. That outcome would cause major economic upheaval and could hit UK GDP by as mu-ch as 10 percent, according to government forecasts.
May wants to strike a deal on the divorce terms by the end of November in order to allow enough time to get the treaty ratified in the UK Parliament—and to pass the other legislation needed to prepare the country for life outside the union.
But pro-Brexit ministers in the cabinet still can’t agree with pro-EU colleagues over the nature of a legal guarantee—known as the backstop—to ensure the Irish border remains open to the flow of goods, whatever future trade arrangements the U.K. makes with the EU. Chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier said more work is needed on the backstop and it’s now time for the UK to make decisions.
After the cabinet meeting, Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab and Attorney General Geoffrey Cox were sent away to work up the highly complicated proposal for the backstop.