Theresa May to chair first cabinet meeting on Brexit strategy

Labour spokesman compares triggering article 50 to powers of a Tudor monarch

Germany’s deputy chancellor Sigmar Gabriel: he warned that the EU could be undermined if Britain received too soft an exit deal

Germany’s deputy chancellor Sigmar Gabriel: he warned that the EU could be undermined if Britain received too soft an exit deal

 

Britain’s strategy for leaving the European Union will top the agenda on Wednesday when Theresa May chairs her first cabinet meeting after the summer break, amid reports of deep divisions among senior ministers.

The meeting at Chequers, the prime minister’s official country residence, will be the cabinet’s first opportunity to discuss in detail the key issues surrounding the implementation of June’s referendum decision.

Chief among them is the tension between maintaining maximum access to the European single market and imposing restrictions on the free movement of people from the EU.

Eurosceptic ministers, including Brexit secretary David Davis and international trade secretary Liam Fox, believe that Britain must leave the single market if it is to regain control of immigration.

Others, led by chancellor of the exchequer Philip Hammond, want to keep all options open, including remaining within the single market, while imposing limited restrictions on immigration. Mr Hammond is reported to favour an arrangement which would allow Britain to retain access to the single market for some sectors, such as financial services, but not for others.

Negotiations

“Lots of people will say, ‘we’ve had the referendum, we’ve decided to go out, so that’s it, it’s all over’. But it very much depends what happens to public opinion and whether the EU changes before then,” he said.

Britain’s European partners have so far shown little appetite for allowing any form of cherry-picking of EU rights and responsibilities for a post-Brexit UK. Germany’s deputy chancellor Sigmar Gabriel warned this week that the EU could be undermined if Britain received too soft an exit deal.

“If we organise Brexit in the wrong way then we’ll be in deep trouble, so now we need to make sure that we don’t allow Britain to keep the nice things, so to speak, related to Europe while taking no responsibility,” he said.

A Social Democrat, Mr Gabriel’s view is shared by centre-left parties across Europe, who want to expedite Britain’s departure from the EU and to resist any concessions which could weaken EU social policy.

While the British government ponders its negotiating strategy, the European Commission is staffing up a Brexit task force under the leadership of former French foreign minister Michel Barnier.

Although the political direction of the Brexit talks will be set by the EU leaders, who will meet without Ms May in Bratislava on September 16th, the commission’s task force is likely to formulate detailed policy options.

Legal advice

Labour

Labour’s Europe spokes- person Barry Gardiner has condemned any attempt to circumvent parliament as undemocratic.

“The logic of saying the prime minister can trigger article 50 without first setting out to parliament the terms and basis upon which her government seeks to negotiate; indeed without even indicating the red lines she will seek to protect, would be to diminish parliament and assume the arrogant powers of a Tudor monarch. Parliament cannot be sidelined from the greatest constitutional change our country has debated in 40 years.”

Some of the potential complications surrounding Brexit came into focus yesterday when a regional leader in northern France suggested the scrapping of an agreement which allows UK border police to vet travellers to Britain before they leave France. The Le Touquet accord means that migrants rejected by British officials at Calais have no option but to seek residence rights in France.

Xavier Bertrand, president of the Hauts-de-France council, suggested that the agreement could be replaced by a so-called “hotspot” near the Calais area where British officials would take responsibility for thousands of migrants hoping to reach Britain.

“Where is it possible to have this kind of treatment? In England or in France? That is the beginning of the discussion. If the British government don’t want to open this discussion, we will tell you, the agreement is over,” he said.

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