Theresa May‘s latest Brexit plan has been dismissed by EU officials, who have deemed her latest proposals ‘unrealistic’ after seeing a draft of the new white paper.
The Prime Minister is gathering her divided cabinet at Chequers this Friday in an attempt to unite her divided party behind a strategy for the UK’s future relationship with the bloc.
Mrs May has risked angering her party’s Brexiteer MPs amid reports she may attempt to keep the UK in the single market.
She has been warned she faces an open Tory rebellion that could bring down the government as her party remains bitterly divided over Brexit.
A hardline group of Eurosceptic MPs has demanded she sticks to the Brexit “she herself has promised”.
However, the warning follows reports that Mrs May’s chief Brexit negotiator has told ministers there is no chance of striking a bespoke deal with the European Union, and that a Norway-style model is Downing Street’s most likely option.
The Times has reported that Oliver Robbins told the cabinet to be realistic about what can be achieved, ahead of a crunch meeting of senior ministers at the prime minister’s Chequers retreat on Friday.
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One government source told The Times that ministers’ only choices will be a Norway-style deal in which Britain remains in the single market but accepts EU rules, or a free-trade agreement which businesses strongly oppose.
“I came out of the meeting and thought we were even more screwed than we were before,” the source said.
“I was surprised he admitted how bad it was. If I had to gauge where we are, I would say Downing Street is moving towards the Norwegian model.”
But a spokesman for Number 10 insisted this morning that the PM would not keep the UK in the single market.
‘The Prime Minister has set out what she wants to achieve – that is to leave the single market, leave the customs union, leave the jurisdiction of the ECJ and be free to sign and implement trade deals around the world,’ he said.
A soft, Norway-style Brexit is strongly opposed by the more ardent Brexiteers within the Conservative Party.
Leading Tory Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg warned that Mrs May faces a revolt that could collapse her government if she doesn’t deliver the Brexit “she herself has promised”.
Writing in The Telegraph, Mr Rees-Mogg said Mrs May must decide at Chequers on Friday if she would stand by her word or reduce “a once-proud country” to a “tremulous state that sees Brexit as mere damage limitation”.
He warned the prime minister she was in danger of splitting the party like Sir Robert Peel, who plunged it into the political wilderness for nearly three decades following bitter divisions over trade reforms.
But the backbencher’s intervention has been met with opposition from fellow Tory MPs, who accuse him of putting his own ego above the interests of the country.
Mrs May will bring together her cabinet at her country residence to thrash out details of a white paper setting out the UK’s plans for areas such as trade.
Brexiteers oppose the PM’s favoured option of a customs partnership with the EU, which would see the UK collect tariffs set by the EU customs union on goods entering the country on behalf of the bloc.
Their “max fac” alternative would, rather than scrapping customs checks, uses technology to minimise the need for them.
Both options have been dismissed by the EU.
But according to the BBC, Downing Street has produced a third model for handling customs after Brexit which will be discussed by senior ministers at Chequers.
Downing Street refused to be drawn on the speculation about a third customs model this morning.
The prime minister’s official spokesman said: “There is going to be a lot of speculation between now and Chequers.
“Some of it might even be true but I’m not going to engage in advance of the away day taking place.”