Theresa May splits warring Cabinet into two groups in bid to heal Brexit divides

Posted On: 
11th May 2018

Theresa May has split her Cabinet ministers into two groups in a bid to heal their deep divisions over the UK's future trading links with Europe.

Theresa May's Cabinet is split over future trade links with the EU.
PA Images

In a highly unusual move, the Prime Minister has divided her ministers into separate camps to discuss the two options for replacing customs union membership after Brexit.

One will examine the so-called 'customs partnership' options which Mrs May prefers, while the other will study the 'maximum facilitation' model favoured by Brexiteers such as Boris Johnson and David Davis.

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Mrs May's gambit is a fresh attempt to break the deadlock and come up with a unified Cabinet position to present to Brussels.

Leave campaigners Liam Fox and Michael Gove, and ardent Remainer David Lidington will examine the customs partnership, while pro-EU Greg Clark and Karen Bradley will examine maximum facilitation - or "max fac" - with David Davis.

Insiders believe the move is designed to give the Prime Minister cover for ditching the customs partnership - where the UK would collect tariffs on behalf of the EU - in favour of max fac, which would rely on futuristic technology to maintain frictionless trade and an open border in Ireland.

Significantly, the EU has already dismissed both options.

Eloise Todd of the pro-EU campaign group Best for Britain said: "This looks like a massive and embarrassing climbdown by the Prime Minister. Theresa May can create whatever working groups she wants but it doesn't change the facts. Both plans are just plain rubbish.  Max fac is about as useful as a chocolate teapot.

"The Prime Minister presides over a deeply divided party and a country that, every day, is growing more and more concerned about Brexit.

"MPs are being lobbied by thousands of people asking them to junk max fac and the customs partnership for the current relationship we have now. It’s vital the people get a vote on whether to trust this government with a blank cheque on the customs union or whether to stay or lead in Europe."