Key questions ahead of Chequers Brexit showdown
Theresa May will gather her Cabinet at the country retreat on Friday.
Theresa May is to gather her Cabinet at Chequers for a meeting to thrash out the Government’s blueprint for Brexit.
– What is happening?
The whole Cabinet will be at the Prime Minister’s official country retreat in Buckinghamshire on Friday. The venue offers more privacy than Downing Street, where reporters and photographers can linger outside the black door to No 10. Ministers will be kept at the mansion until they have reached agreement.
– What do they need to decide?
The Government has to set out what it wants its future relationship with the European Union after Brexit to look like. This includes issues relating to customs and trade which have triggered furious rows within the Tory ranks.
– What about customs?
On customs, two models have been considered by ministers: the “maximum facilitation” system favoured by Brexiteers, which would use technology to help reduce friction at the border; or the “customs partnership” where the UK would collect duties on behalf of the EU.
Because of problems with both models, a “third way” may now be under consideration, although details are scant on what the compromise could be.
– What about the single market?
The Prime Minister has ruled out remaining in the single market, but fundamental questions need to be resolved about how far the UK will deviate from the standards set by Brussels.
Businesses fear that if domestic rules after Brexit stray too far from those set by the EU, it will hamper their ability to work and trade in those markets.
But some Brexiteers favour divergence, arguing that it will enable the UK to compete on the global stage and slash red tape. They question what the point of leaving the EU will be if the UK remains bound by rules over which it no longer has a say.
– Will decisions be reached?
Mrs May has so far managed to hold together the mix of Brexiteers and former Remainers in her Cabinet, but descending from the fence on one side or the other of the debate is likely to strain that fragile truce.
A further slice of Brexit fudge is a possibility, but the Prime Minister has promised the White Paper that will emerge after the talks “will set out detailed proposals”.
– Could there be resignations?
Tensions are undoubtedly running high. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson could face a difficult decision if the Cabinet comes down in favour of close alignment with EU rules and the “customs partnership” model.
On the other hand, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Business Secretary Greg Clark would resist any Brexit deal which would hit jobs and the economy.
– What next?
A White Paper setting out the Government’s blueprint for Brexit will be published next week. Mrs May wants talks with Brussels to “intensify and accelerate” once it is produced.
EU leaders, who have been frustrated that it has taken the UK Government so long to set out its plan, called for “realistic and workable” proposals.
Decisions on a deal are expected to be taken at October’s EU summit – although there is also the possibility of an emergency meeting in November if agreement cannot be reached.