Brexit mutiny: Air of resignation in Westminster
- Credit: PA Wire/PA Images
Theresa May is facing a mass walk out of her cabinet over Brexit negotiations.
The prime minister briefed the inner cabinet on the current state of talks with Brussels but was warned if she gives up too much ground to the EU ministers could quit.
During the meeting work and pensions secretary Esther McVey pointedly refused to endorse the PM's Chequers plan while international development secretary Penny Mordaunt and the leader of the Commons Andrea Leadsom also made it clear they held deep concerns.
And Westminster is rife with rumours that foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt, Brexit secretary Dominic Raab, environment secretary Michael Gove and trade secretary Liam Fox are also prepared to turn their backs on Chequers.
Although May could survive the odd resignation on a point of principle losing senior ministers – especially Raab – could well spark a challenge to topple her by Brexiteers.
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On the BBC's Question Time Tory MP Ross Thomson claimed he was 'supporting' the PM by criticising her proposals. This softer approach has been employed by the Brexit wing of the Tories since conference but as new talks with the EU loom it appears those critical of Chequers are prepared to up the ante.
The EU wants Northern Ireland effectively to remain in the single market and the customs union to avoid the need for customs checks until there is a final free trade deal between the UK and the EU.
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May insists such an arrangement must apply to the whole of the UK to avoid the creation of a 'border in the Irish Sea' between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
However, Tory Brexiteers fear that she is about to concede to EU demands that it must be open-ended, despite previous assurances from ministers it would have to be time-limited.
Without a time limit, critics say Britain could be tied to the EU indefinitely unable to negotiate free trade deals with other countries. Boris Johnson has said it would reduce the UK to a 'permanent EU colony'.
Following three days of talks with key figures in Brussels, DUP leader Arlene Foster – whose party props up the government at Westminster – issued a renewed warning that they could not accept the EU proposals as they stood.
'The prime minister is a unionist. Many of her cabinet colleagues have assured me of their unionism,' she said.
'Therefore, they could not in good conscience recommend a deal which places a trade barrier on United Kingdom businesses moving goods from one part of the Kingdom to another.'