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Theresa May under mounting Cabinet pressure to ditch Chequers Brexit plan

Theresa May under mounting Cabinet pressure to ditch Chequers Brexit plan
4 min read

Theresa May will hold talks with her top ministers today as she fights to save her Chequers Brexit plan after a bruising meeting with EU leaders.


The Prime Minister will chair a meeting of the Cabinet amid reports that a growing number of her senior ministers want her to ditch the proposals in favour of a Canada-style free trade deal with the European Union.

Brexiteers will meanwhile unveil their long-promised alternative plan today, while Boris Johnson warned the Prime Minister that voters would “take revenge at the polls” by electing Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn if she fails to change course.

The Telegraph reports that the majority of Mrs May’s Cabinet now backs a so-called "Canada-plus" approach, after EU leaders used a meeting in Salzburg last week to heap scorn on the Prime Minister’s existing plan to keep close regulatory ties with the bloc to avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland.

A Cabinet source told the paper that ministers were now split between pushing to become a member of the European Economic Area - known as the "Norway" option - or a looser trade agreement on the lines of the EU's deal with Canada.

One source said: "Ministers are prepared to put their foot down and say Chequers is dead. They are happy for her to call a new plan Chequers MkII to save face but it will effectively be Canada.”

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt is said to be central to the fight to persuade Mrs May to back the Canada option, with fellow ministers Liam Fox, Penny Mordaunt, Esther McVey, Andrea Leadsom and Sajid Javid also said to be lined up behind the plan.

Ministers understood to be in favour the Norway option - which would give the UK access to the EU's single market but a limited say over its rules - include Chancellor Philip Hammond, Education Secretary Damian Hinds, Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley, Business Secretary Greg Clark and the Housing Secretary James Brokenshire

In a boost for the Prime Minister, however, the paper reports that a number of top ministers who had been considering resigning over Chequers have instead opted to stay in the Government and fight for a change of plan.

They will also reportedly heap pressure on Mrs May to sack her top civil service Europe adviser, Olly Robbins.

BORIS: CHEQUERS = CORBYN

The meeting in Downing Street will take place just hours after former foreign secretary Boris Johnson and ex-Brexit secretary David Davis - who both quit the Cabinet over Chequers - throw their weight behind an alternative plan for leaving the EU drawn up by the free market Institute of Economic Affairs think tank.

On Monday Mr Johnson warned that sticking with the the Chequers plan would push voters towards a Labour government.

Writing in the Telegraph, he said: "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."

The Tory heavyweight added: "I am afraid that Chequers = surrender; Chequers = a sense of betrayal; Chequers = the return of Ukip; Chequers = Corbyn."

The IEA's plan will call for the UK to leave the EU's single market and customs union while simultaneously pushing for membership of existing free trade pacts across the world, including the Common Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and Nafta.

Ahead of the launch, IEA director Mark Littlewood said: "In such a challenging international context and given the many complexities of Brexit, it is perhaps understandable, albeit disappointing, that any British government would set its sights merely on damage limitation.

"Actually, the opportunities are enormously greater than that. If the UK raised its ambition level and sought to be the catalyst to spread free trade across the world, it could be a powerful and successful agent for change."

But Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab warned Eurosceptics over the weekend that there were no "credible alternatives" to Mrs May's proposals that the EU would be willing to accept.

He told the BBC: "We all want a free trade deal. The question is the terms. And if what you're referring to is the CETA plus or plus plus arrangement which is being bandied around I think people need to read the small print, not just of our proposals, but the EU's proposals.

"Because what they're suggesting is not just a free trade but for us to stay locked in or for Northern Ireland specifically to stay locked into the customs union.

"Now that would be a clear carve up of the United Kingdom in economic terms."

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