PM will talk to key Eurosceptics about speech on Britain’s future outside EU
THERESA MAY will hold last-minute talks with key Eurosceptic Cabinet ministers this week as she seeks to reassure them about her speech this week on Britain’s future after Brexit.
Both Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, and Priti Patel, the International Development Secretary, are likely to discuss the speech with the Prime Minister on the margins of the United Nations general assembly meeting in New York in the next few days.
Neither Mr Johnson nor Ms Patel were at a meeting of a key Whitehall Brexit committee last week which discussed the main themes of the speech which Mrs May will deliver in Florence on Friday. Mr Johnson decided to publish his own plans for a successful Brexit in a 4,000 word article in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph after he missed the meeting because he had to fly to the Caribbean to see the devastation caused by Hurricane Irma.
One friend said Mr Johnson was “fuming” that the committee met without him, saying “it is full of the Remain- ers discussing the speech, the direction of travel” without input from key Brexiteers. The long-form article, which Tory MPs described as a speech in its patriotic tone and swelling rhetoric, set out his vision for Brexit. Drafts had been worked on by a core group of friends and advisers since July. Much of the Foreign Secretary’s phraseology was taken from speeches he has been delivering at his regular informal meetings of up to 20 Tory MPs.
Mrs May’s own 5,000 word speech sets out her vision for Britain after Brexit and is billed as the follow-up to her Lancaster House speech in January which set out her Brexit negotiation plans. Her concern will be that if she does not go as far as Mr Johnson in her demands then she will be accused of trying to soften the impact of Brexit.
The Prime Minister is already facing demands from Eurosceptic ministers not to name how much Britain will pay in a Brexit “divorce bill” because it will be seen as a “betrayal” by Brexit voters.
Frontbenchers who backed Brexit are understood to fear reputational damage if they are forced to defend payments worth tens of billions of pounds to the EU. Mrs May is understood to be considering saying she will support a two-year transition deal which would see Brexit changes phased in for a limited period after the UK formally leaves the EU in March 2019. The Prime Minister is also set to signal that the UK will continue payments into Brussels during some or all of that period to retain access to the single market and customs union. With the UK’s net payments running at €10billion (£8.8billion) a year, a two or three-year transition could mean paying €20-€30billion, even before other outstanding issues are resolved.
Mrs May is expected to reassure the other 27 EU members states that Britain will not engage in a regulatory “race to the bottom” after Brexit. The shape and direction of the speech was confirmed to The Sunday Telegraph by two senior Whitehall officials, while noting that there was still ample time for changes before delivery as internal debate in Cabinet continued. One source said it was clear that Mrs May was now shifting closer to embracing what is being called a “high alignment model” with Europe, at least in the medium term.
This would mean mirroring existing arrangements with the EU in order to give the UK time to develop a global trade strategy. “Brexiteers have to consider that too sharp and radical a rupture with the EU risks causing chaos and destroying public support for Brexit. This way we would definitely be leaving, but one step at a time,” said a source with knowledge of the UKU strategy.
However, the Brexit “divorce b bill” remains the biggest point of contention. Brussels wants “sufficient progress” to be made on the money before both sides can discuss a free trade deal. Senior EU officials are assuming Mrs May will make a substantial policy reset to break the current talks deadlock.
‘Brexiteers have to consider sider that too sharp a rupture re with the EU risks destroying oying public support for Brexit’xit’
Mrs May is facing demands from some Eurosceptics not to reveal how much Britain will pay in a Brexit ‘divorce bill’