Theresa May will today come under pressure from members of her Cabinet to ditch her Brexit plan after it was mauled by the EU and the Prime Minister admitted the UK was at a stalemate with Brussels.
The beleaguered PM is due to gather her Cabinet on Monday morning, the first meeting of senior Tory ministers since the unexpected push-back of her so-called ‘Chequers’ blueprint in Salzburg last week.
The Downing Street meeting was originally expected to discuss migration policy, but the Brexit set-back means May is now likely to be urged to offer an alternative to the proposal - just days before the Tory conference.
Reports have suggested May could face resignations if she refuses to shift her position, adding to the losses of Boris Johnson and David Davis who have already resigned over the ‘Chequers’ deal, which is named after her country residence where it was agreed.
While both pro-Brexit and pro-Remain backbenchers have declared her proposal dead - with many rallying behind the ‘Chuck Chequers’ refrain - her Cabinet has remained supportive, at least in public.
On Sunday, Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab said the Government would keep negotiating on the basis of May’s plan.
“We will hold our nerve, we will keep our cool and we will keep negotiating in good faith. What we are not going to do is be dictated to,” he told the BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show.
“We have come up with a serious set of proposals. We are not just going to flit from plan to plan like some sort of diplomatic butterfly.”
Raab added the Government was continuing to prepare for a no-deal break, with the next tranche of technical papers due to be published on Monday.
Over the weekend Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, seen as a May loyalist, pointedly refused to rule out the prospect that the Government could switch its negotiating position in favour of a Canada-style deal.
Home Secretary Sajid Javid, International Trade Secretary Liam Fox, International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt, the Leader of the Commons Andrea Leadsom and Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey are all reported to have concerns about Chequers.
Cabinet ‘sources’ have been briefing privately how May has to change her tune. “Chequers in its present form is a non-starter for the EU so it’s time for us to look at the alternatives. We should at least look again at the prospect of a free trade agreement,” the Guardian reported.
May’s critics have been pushing for a deal that has been dubbed ‘Canada Plus’, which would have echoes of the agreement struck between the EU and Canada in 2016.
It differs from ‘Chequers’ by agreeing to a looser integration on EU rules.
But a Canada-style free trade agreement is seen as unacceptable because it would trigger a ‘backstop’ for Northern Ireland, which would see it remain within the EU customs area after Brexit while the rest of the UK left.
The British government argues this would draw a border down the Irish Sea and undermine the constitutional integrity of the country, and May is under pressure from the DUP - the Ulster unionists propping up her government - not to soften her stance.
Against the backdrop of Cabinet unrest, ‘Canada Plus’ is expected to be fleshed-out in a document published on Monday by trade expert Shanker Singham of the Institute of Economic Affairs. The event is likely to be attended by key Brexiteers, including Davis and Jacob Rees-Mogg.
In his weekly column for The Daily Telegraph, Johnson warned it would play into the hands of Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party if the Government continued to pursue the same course in the facing of rising public hostility.
“If we go with the Chequers approach, the public will spot it. They will see that the UK has become a vassal state, that we have not taken back control, but lost control.
“They will take their revenge at the polls,” he wrote. I am afraid that Chequers = surrender; Chequers = a sense of betrayal; Chequers = the return of Ukip; Chequers = Corbyn.”
On Sunday, the embattled Prime Minister issued a statement to hit back at reports her Chequers exit deal had been effectively killed off
“Now is the time for cool heads. And it is a time to hold our nerve,” she said.
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