Outlook not great for hard Brexiteers of May’s cabinet

May has invited full cabinet, where most favour a softer Brexit, to Chequers away day

Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn during prime minister’s questions. Photograph: PA Wire

Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn during prime minister’s questions. Photograph: PA Wire

 

There was a torpid quality to prime minister’s questions on Wednesday, with empty seats scattered throughout the chamber and both Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn below their unexceptional best. With cabinet members knocking lumps out of one another in public all week, the Labour leader had a wealth of material to choose from as he tormented the prime minister by quoting her own ministers’ remarks back to her.

Corbyn portrayed the Conservatives’ feuding over Brexit as evidence that the government is unable to agree a common position as the time left to negotiate is measured in weeks rather than months. But a moment of resolution may be approaching, and it isn’t looking auspicious for the hard Brexiteers in May’s cabinet.

Next week’s away day at Chequers will not, as Corbyn suggested on Wednesday, be a “pyjama party” but a one-day meeting where, according to No 10, the dress code will be business attire. May has invited the full cabinet, where a majority favour a softer Brexit, rather than just the Brexit subcommittee, where hardliners are now a majority.

They are due to discuss outstanding issues in the negotiations, including what Britain wants in terms of regulatory alignment, ahead of the publication of a white paper outlining the government’s position on the future relationship with the EU.

Little time

The white paper is due to be published in the week of July 9th, a few days after the Chequers meeting, so ministers will have little time to influence its contents. May and her allies want the cabinet to give Britain’s negotiators latitude to push for closer regulatory alignment with the EU than many hard Brexiteers believe is compatible with the referendum result or with the red lines the prime minister laid out in her Lancaster House speech last year.

May compromised those red lines – no customs union, no single market, no jurisdiction for the European Court of Justice – in her Mansion House speech this year. The white paper is likely to move her further away from those preconditions, calling for regulatory alignment for goods.

Business secretary Greg Clark went further this week, calling for single market access for services and a “labour mobility framework” that sounds suspiciously like free movement.

For their part, the Brexiteers will seek to lay down new, deep crimson lines that will fix the ne plus ultra to the march of the prime minister’s compromises on the way to a Brexit deal later this year.

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