The government will give ‘clarity’ on its plans for Brexit within weeks, Amber Rudd said today – as the Cabinet gears up for a major clash.
The Home Secretary tried to play down tensions between ministers as she insisted there was no rift on key issues such as whether the UK should quit the EU customs union.
But she fueled concerns about lack of preparation for Brexit by saying it was only ‘likely’ that immigration proposals will be ready in time for the formal leaving date next year.
Meanwhile, Remainer Anna Soubry has threatened to quit the Tories in protest at a takeover by ‘hard’ Brexiteers.
Theresa May gathered her full Cabinet in Downing Street this morning – but the crunch talks are due to take place in the EU sub-committee tomorrow and Thursday.
Theresa May gathered her full Cabinet in Downing Street this morning – but the crunch talks are due to take place in the Brexit sub-committee tomorrow and Thursday
David Davis and Amber Rudd were at the Cabinet meeting in Downing Street today
International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt was driven up to the door of No10
EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier complained yesterday that the UK was not being clear about what it wanted in the future relationship – saying the government must ‘make a choice’.
But there are clear divides in the Cabinet over the desired outcome, with Brexiteers such as Boris Johnson and Michael Gove pushing for a cleaner break, while others like Ms Rudd and Chancellor Philip Hammond urging more modest change.
Mrs May took a significant step over the weekend by ruling out forging any form of customs union with the EU after Brexit.
She is also thought to have killed off an effort by the Treasury to keep elements of the customs union until fresh trade deals are done outside the EU – which could be years away.
The pressures were underline today as Remainer MP Anna Soubry threatened to quit the Tories unless Mrs May kicks out hardline Brexiteers.
Asked about the Cabinet meetings in a round of broadcast interviews this morning, Ms Rudd told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I hope that within the next few weeks we’ll be able to give some clarity to people.’
But she indicated that voters may have to wait for longer to see the Government’s immigration plans.
Ms Rudd said she planned to publish an immigration white paper by the end of the year, but stressed a post-Brexit implementation period of around two years during which EU citizens will be free to live and work in the UK reduced the urgency.
Asked if voters would know how immigration will work after Brexit before exit day in March 2019, Ms Rudd said: ‘That is likely.’
Boris Johnson, pictured arriving for Cabinet, is urging a clean break from the EU
Environment Secretary Michael Gove and Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt will be part of the decision on what relations we should have with the EU
Business Secretary Greg Clark and energy minister Claire Perry were at the Cabinet meeting this morning
She went on: ‘I completely understand businesses want to know, of course people want to know what is taking place post-’21 but if I put that in terms of the timeline, that does reduce the urgency.’
Responding to Ms Soubry’s comments, Ms Rudd told BBC Breakfast: ‘This is the sort of debate you expect when tempers run high, when people have very strong views on either side. So, Anna’s putting her views out in a characteristically robust way and we’ll see what the Prime Minister’s response is.
‘But it’s no surprise to me that there are very strong views on what is such an important part of this country’s future – working out how we leave the European Union – and people have very, very strongly held views.’
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said it was ‘unacceptable’ that the Cabinet was deciding on what ‘end state’ relationship the UK will seek with the EU without consulting devolved administrations.
She told Today: ‘We’re seeing the Government yet again put the interests of the Conservative Party ahead of the interests of the country.
‘It is overwhelmingly in my view in the interests of the country, our economy, to remain within the customs union and the single market.’
Amid Tory strife over membership of the customs union, which allows tariff-free trade but inhibits the UK’s ability to strike new deals with countries outside the union, New Zealand’s prime minister said an agreement with the UK was a ‘priority’.
Jacinda Ardern told Today: ‘We are here, ready and willing, and really willing to model what those future free trade agreements from a UK perspective could look like, so ready we are.’
Mrs Soubry, pictured right on GMB with Labour’s Jess Phillips, suggested she could form a ‘new alliance’ with Remainers
Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom and Liam Fox arrive for the Cabinet meeting today