In Brief

Theresa May's Brexit plans ‘on life support’

Prime minister Chequers’ deal under attack from all sides, as negotiations enter crunch week

Theresa May’s Brexit plans have been left by hanging by a thread after the EU rejected a key proposal intended to avoid the UK being trapped in an indefinite customs union.

The prime minister had hoped to unite her cabinet and overcome the final hurdle in negotiations with the EU by offering to create an “independent mechanism” to oversee how the UK might leave a temporary customs arrangement if Brexit talks collapsed.

EU ambassadors have been told a draft deal is close and the aim was to get it signed off by politicians on both sides at some point in the coming days.

However, The Sunday Times says the prime minister “has been plunged into a deeper crisis” after senior EU officials “sent shockwaves through No 10 by rejecting May’s plan, sparking fears that negotiations have broken down days before “no-deal” preparations costing billions need to be implemented”.

Describing the plan as the government’s “life support machine”, a Whitehall source told the paper that “by rejecting the proposal, the EU has just turned off the oxygen”.

Theresa May’s attempts to get her Brexit deal through cabinet this week are “facing another hurdle” after leading Conservative Brexiter Andrea Leadsom said she was “sticking in government” to make sure the UK did not end up trapped in a customs arrangement, reports The Guardian.

Amid reports that up to four Remain-leaning ministers could be set to follow former transport minister Jo Johnson and resign from Cabinet over the prime minister’s handling of the negotiations, Downing Street was forced to fight another rear-guard action over the weekend to stop some Brexiteers and 13 Scottish Tory MPs rebelling over post-Brexit fishing rights.

The Sunday Telegraph revealed the EU fishing fleets must be given wide-ranging access to British coastal waters as the price of agreeing an all-UK Brexit divorce deal.

The paper said “the EU demands threaten to re-open a fierce row inside the Tory party over the potential size of the Brexit dividend for coastal and fishing communities”.

Reuters reports that with a crunch vote expected before Christmas, government whips are “on the prowl”, but the problem, says Politico, is that “the message from the Sunday papers is that the prime minister (still) does not have the numbers in parliament to secure a Brexit deal with Brussels”.

It follows a warning from the DUP’s Brexit spokesman Sammy Wilson that the party’s ten MPs who prop up the government would vote against May’s deal “if the government makes the historic mistake of prioritising placating the EU over establishing an independent and whole UK”.

Nor can May expect to be saved by Labour rebels. Speaking to the BBC’s Andrew Marr, the shadow foreign secretary, Emily Thornberry, attacked the prime minister for asking MPs to choose between “the devil and the deep blue sea”.

“You cannot expect the Labour Party to save you from your own backbenchers who are saying this deal makes no sense – and everybody knows it doesn't make sense” she said.

If an outline deal is not agreed by the middle of this week, it is unlikely that an emergency summit to sign it off can be held in November, throwing back a final agreement until the middle of December.

“That would leave the UK having to ramp off hugely-expensive no-deal preparations and in danger of being unable to pass all necessary legislation before Brexit day next March”, says The Independent.

The main issue, though, for two of the four legs of the unlikely coalition threatening to throw out whatever deal May can strike with Brussels is that unless an alternative can be agreed, the UK simply crashes out of the EU without an agreement on 29 March 2019.

“For the Brexiteers and the DUP this might be okay, but to Labour and the Tory Remainers it is unacceptable”, says Politico.

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