Theresa May edges closer to Brexit ‘no deal’
Prime Minister tells EU nations the ‘ball is in their court’ on trade deal
Monday began with the EU and Downing Street trading sporting analogies and ended with talk that the government is prepared to take Britain out of the bloc without a deal in place.
What did Theresa May say to MPs?
Addressing Parliament on its first day back after the conference season recess, the Prime Minister said the UK could operate as an “independent trading nation” after Brexit, again raising the possibility of crashing out of the EU without a new agreement.
Speaking as the fifth round of Brexit talks began in Brussels, May called on the EU to accept the concessions she made last month in Florence and move talks on to a future trade deal. She said: “The ball is in their court.”
May called for a “new, deep and special partnership between a sovereign United Kingdom and a strong and successful European Union” and told MPs she was “optimistic” she would get a positive response from the other 27 member states.
May said she would prefer a transition deal to avoid a cliff-edge Brexit - but reiterated that Britain will be leaving both the single market and customs union in March 2019.
Tory Brexiters were left “up in arms” when the Prime Minister seemed to confirm the UK would still be bound by European Court of Justice decisions during a Brexit implementation period, said the BBC’s Norman Smith.
Before May had even delivered her speech yesterday, the European Commission dismissed the suggestion that the ball was in the EU’s court to compromise and break the deadlock, saying: "The ball is entirely in the UK court for the rest to happen."
What do the customs and trade White Papers say?
To coincide with May’s speech, the government released two new position papers setting out post-Brexit trade and customs arrangements.
These contain “some interesting lines”, says The Daily Telegraph. The first is confirmation that the UK is preparing for “all possible outcomes” of negotiations with Brussels (for that, read leaving with no deal). The second is the announcement that the government will seek to create a “fair and proportionate rules-based system for trade”.
The Daily Telegraph’s Christopher Hope writes that the customs White Paper sets out plans to establish a standalone customs regime to take effect from day one after Brexit which would set tariffs and quotas, and set up a goods classification system in line with the government’s WTO obligations.
However, The Guardian’s Lisa O'Carroll says the White Paper on customs needs to be read alongside the leaked report from the Irish equivalent of HMRC on this issue.
In it, Ireland’s Office of the Revenue Commissioners (ORC) said an invisible border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic after Brexit is “impossible” and hopes for such an arrangement are “naive”. The ORC went on to conclude that customs posts will be needed, with significant facilities on border roads.
The general consensus on both the Prime Minister’s speech and the two White Papers is that they show a hardening of tone, especially around the possibility of walking away from negotiations without a deal.
Are pro-Brexit Tories still rebelling?
Yes: on Monday, leading anti-EU backbencher Bernard Jenkin urged hardline Brexiters to exploit the Prime Minister’s weakness to press for a “no deal”.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4, Jenkin insisted most Conservative MPs would be fully behind May if she walked away if trade talks were still blocked after a crucial EU summit later this month.
This is just the latest sign of a “concerted push” by Brexit-backing Conservatives, who helped rescue the Prime Minister after last week’s failed coup attempt, The Independent reports.
The paper claims this has led many EU figures “to fear the chances of Britain crashing out of the EU with no deal are growing, with May too weak to make the further concessions they are insisting upon”.
Others, such as the pro-Brexit Environment Secretary Michael Gove, urged fellow Brexiters not to worry too much about what happens during the Brexit transition, arguing it is what happens in the end that matters.