Cabinet ministers demand last-minute changes to Theresa May's Brexit speech

Posted On: 
1st March 2018

Cabinet ministers have called on Theresa May to make changes to a major Brexit speech just 24 hours before she makes it.

Theresa May's Brexit sub-committee met for eight hours at Chequers.
PA Images

The Prime Minister chaired an emergency meeting of her top team in Number 10 as she prepared to deliver the eagerly-anticipated address tomorrow.

Ministers spent around half an hour reading a draft of the speech before holding a two-hour discussion of its contents.

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Mrs May's official spokesman said: "The Prime Minister invited every member of the Cabinet to give their views on the speech ahead of the text being finalised delivered tomorrow.

"Cabinet ministers held a detailed and positive discussion agreeing that the speech would represent a real step forward in the negotiations."

However, the spokesman refused to be drawn as he was asked repeatedly whether ministers had suggested changes to the speech.

He said: "The point of today's Cabinet was for a discussion ahead of the text being finalised and delivered tomorrow. Anybody who's been involved in the formulation of any speech knows they're a work in progress until they're delivered.

"The (Cabinet Brexit sub-committee) reached an agreed position at Chequers last week, today was a discussion of the speech and there was agreement that this was a positive step forward."

Mrs May's Cabinet is known to be deeply split between those who believe Britain should maintain as close links as possible with the EU after Brexit for the good of the economy, and those who think the UK should be free to strike out on its own away from Brussels' regulatory restrictions.

A senior Cabinet source told PoliticsHome that the atmosphere in the meeting had been "better than expected".

But they also confirmed that ministers had made a range of suggestions for how the speech could be improved.

"The PM got lots of feedback - if she takes it all she'll be speaking for hours," they said.

Mrs May's speech comes against the backdrop of the EU's proposal that Northern Ireland should effectively remain in the customs union if no other way can be found to avoid a hard border with the Republic of Ireland.

At Prime Minister's Questions yesterday she said: "The draft legal text the Commission has published would, if implemented, undermine the United Kingdom common market and threaten the constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom by creating a custom and regulatory border down the Irish Sea," she said.

"No UK prime minister could ever agree to it. I will be making it crystal clear to President Juncker and others that we will never do so."