May’s Brexit war cabinet to meet as Tory divisions spill into open

Leaked document says EU may seek way to punish UK during transition phase

Students take a selfie against a mural including Emmeline Pankhurst (top left) in Manchester to mark the 100th anniversary of the Representation of People Act which allowed women to vote in the UK. Photograph: Anthony Devlin/Getty Images

Students take a selfie against a mural including Emmeline Pankhurst (top left) in Manchester to mark the 100th anniversary of the Representation of People Act which allowed women to vote in the UK. Photograph: Anthony Devlin/Getty Images

 

Theresa May will on Wednesday chair the first of two meetings of her Brexit war cabinet this week amid rising tension between pro-Europeans and hard Brexiteers in the Conservative Party. The prime minister sought to play down the divisions during a visit to Manchester on Tuesday, asserting that her government was united behind her approach to Brexit.

“The party and the government are focused on one very clear act, thing that we have to do, which is what the British people asked us to do, which is to leave the European Union. Now we’ve set out a clear position in the Lancaster House speech, the article 50 letter, the Florence speech, all of these show the same principles underpinning what we want to do when we leave the European Union, which is to ensure that we get a good deal for our trading in goods and services,” she said.

The prime minister declined to comment on a threat by former business minister Anna Soubry to leave the Conservatives if Boris Johnson or Jacob Rees-Mogg became leader. In an interview with the BBC’s Newsnight on Monday, Ms Soubry said Ms May should “sling out” hard Brexiteers such as Mr Rees-Mogg.

“If it comes to it, I am not going to stay in a party which has been taken over by the likes of Jacob Rees-Mogg and Boris Johnson. They are not proper Conservatives. And if that means leaving the party, form some new alliance, God knows I don’t know. But we just simply cannot go on like this any longer,” she said.

Difficult

Former education secretary Justine Greening on Tuesday stopped short of echoing Ms Soubry’s threat to quit but suggested that remaining in the party could be difficult with Mr Rees-Mogg as leader.

The Confederation of British Industry warned on Tuesday that the government’s proposals for a customs arrangement or partnership with the EU after Brexit were unworkable

“That might be a bit of a stretch, admittedly, but I think, again, what matters to me, probably, in any of those circumstances is what my own community thinks and who they feel is right. But we have a prime minister,” she said.

Overshadowed

Wednesday’s meeting of the Brexit war cabinet, which includes the most senior ministers on both sides of the debate, could be overshadowed by the leak of an EU document on the transitional period following Brexit. The document says Brussels will seek a mechanism that will allow it to limit Britain’s access to the single market during the transition in response to any infringement of its rules.

Ms May must reconcile the determination of hard Brexiteers in the cabinet to leave the customs union as soon as possible with the anxiety of former Remainers about the impact of such a move on the British economy. The Confederation of British Industry warned on Tuesday that the government’s proposals for a customs arrangement or partnership with the EU after Brexit were unworkable. The business lobby group, which wants Britain to stay inside the customs union, said leaving it would harden the Border on the island of Ireland.

“Creating barriers within the all-island market would be deeply damaging. According to one estimate, complying with the requirements of leaving the customs union would add over €458 to the cost of shipping every consignment of goods across the border. For an SME sending just 2,200 batches of goods across the border in a year, each with six or seven a day, raises an additional cost of over €1 million,” it said.