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Theresa May’s Cabinet has heated row over Brexit backstop



Theresa May
Theresa May

  • Ministers lined up to criticise Theresa May’s Brexit
    plans at a fraught Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, with one
    likening her proposals to Dante’s first circle of
  • At issue is the controversial backstop, the EU’s
    insurance policy to avoid a hard border in Ireland, which many
    Tory MPs are ready to vote against and which could ultimately
    push the UK towards a no-deal exit.
  • The prime minister is preparing for another heated
    meeting with angry backbench MPs on Wednesday afternoon, with
    her critics increasingly confident they approaching the
    required number of votes to trigger a no-confidence vote in her


LONDON — Theresa May’s Cabinet descended into open conflict on
Tuesday as she prepared for another fraught showdown with angry
backbench MPs on Wednesday.

In a heated meeting with senior colleagues, the prime
minister was challenged by seven senior pro-Brexit ministers over
her plans to keep Britain tied to European rules beyond Brexit
day, which she sees as a means of breaking the impasse with EU
negotiators, according to
a Bloomberg report

Cabinet’s big hitters — including Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt,
Home Secretary Sajid Javid, Environment Secretary Michael Gove,
and Attorney General Geoffrey Cox — were among those who
reportedly expressed concerns.

On the other side of the argument were ministers like David
Lidington, May’s de facto deputy prime minister, who warned that
trying to fight the EU on the backstop would lead to a chaotic
no-deal Brexit.

At issue is the EU’s proposed backstop policy for avoiding a hard
border on the island of Ireland.

May repeated her pledge in a speech on Monday that she would not
accept the EU’s preferred backstop measure to effectively keep
Northern Ireland in the European single market and customs union
after Brexit, as it would create new checks between Northern
Ireland and the rest of UK, and almost certainly be voted down by
Tory and DUP MPs.

The prime minister’s counterproposal is to keep the whole of the
UK in a de facto customs union with the EU. However, she has
already reneged on a key promise she previously made to
Brexiteers, telling EU leaders that
whatever backstop is eventually agreed will not come with a fixed
end date. Conservative MPs fear that would lead to Britain being
trapped in the EU’s customs territory for years to come, unable
to sign new free trade deals.

Her alternative proposal, to extend the transition period during
which the UK would essentially remain in the EU, has been met
with even more fury.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Geoffrey Cox
told May that an indefinite backstop would be like
being stuck in Dante’s first circle of hell, while Jeremy Hunt
also insisted that the UK should have the right to withdraw
unilaterally from the mechanism.

Tory MPs are likely to be further enraged by
a report leaked to the Times
on Wednesday which shows that
the prime minister’s proposal to extend the transition could turn
in to a “long-running” multi-year transition period, despite her
promise it would only last a few months.

The crunch meeting

Theresa May
Theresa May

May’s meeting with the 1922 committee of backbench MPs on
Wednesday evening is understood to have been made at her own
request, indicating the whips believe they can generate some show
of loyalty there.

But it is guaranteed to be explosive, given the unrest at her
leadership and belief from her critics that they are rapidly
approaching the 48 votes needed to trigger a no-confidence vote.
Stand Up For Brexit — the Conservative party faction opposed to
May’s handling of Brexit and her Chequers proposals — now has the
support over 50 Tory MPs.

While there is nothing new about Tory colleagues challenging
May’s Brexit proposals, it is clear the prime minister is in her
most dangerous position as leader to date, with her domestic
challenge at times appearing insurmountable.

MPs are increasingly suspicious that her plan to keep the UK in a
customs union without a fixed end date amounts to an attempt to
pursue a soft Brexit through the back door and appear ready to
vote against any such plan in large numbers.

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