In Brief

Brexit ‘war cabinet’ prepares for battle

Soft and hard Brexiters go head-to-head today to decide Britain’s post-EU future

Theresa May’s Brexit ‘war cabinet’ meets today, with those advocating a soft and hard Brexit going head-to-head as they agree a plan for Britain’s future relationship with the EU.

As the clock ticks down towards Brexit day on 29 March next year, “each side feels increasingly anxious about the risk of losing what they want to see from the process”, says RTE.

Brexiters in the slimmed-down Cabinet - including the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Brexit Secretary David Davis and International Trade Secretary Liam Fox - are ready to block the UK staying in any form of customs union. They will face stiff resistance from Chancellor Philip Hammond, Home Secretary Amber Rudd and Business Secretary Greg Clark, who are determined to maintain some kind of regulatory alignment and market access to soften the economic blow of leaving the bloc.

With Tory divisions over Brexit “set to reach crunch point, Eurosceptics are already getting geared up for a battle”, says The Independent. Arch-Brexiter and potential leadership contender Jacob Rees-Mogg summoned members of the influential European Research Group of Europhobe Tory MPs to a meeting last night to agree their line of attack.

Yesterday, German MEP Manfred Weber, leader of the centre-right European People’s Party in the European parliament, called on Britain to say what it wants from Brexit.

Politico, which spoke to officials from both the UK and EU, says “the outlook is not promising”.

“It seems Brussels thinks Theresa May will eventually abandon her plan to quit the customs union… while London thinks the EU is ‘playing a game’ and willfully misunderstanding its position,” says the site.

In a boon to those advocating a soft Brexit, a YouGov poll released yesterday suggests Britons are now more concerned about maintaining free trade than cutting immigration. However, it also found more people think Britain should press ahead with Brexit in March next year even in the event of no deal than think it should stay in the EU.

The divisions within Cabinet reflect the seemingly irreparable split in the parliamentary Tory party, with a minority right wing gunning for a hard Brexit and more moderate MPs favouring a softer one.

Justine Greening, who was sacked as education secretary by the Prime Minister in January’s reshuffle, became the second former minister to say she would find it hard to remain within a Tory party led by Jacob Rees-Mogg.

Asked if she would remain in the party if Rees-Mogg became leader, she told the BBC’s Daily Politics: “Er, that might be a bit of a stretch, admittedly. But I think, again, what matters to me, probably, in any of those circumstances is what my own community thinks and who they feel is right.”

Earlier this week, in an explosive BBC Newsnight interview, vocal Tory Remainer Anna Soubry said her party had been “taken over” by around 35 hardline Eurosceptics who should be “slung out”.

The problem for May, the Tory party and the UK as a whole is that “Brexit is a process that risks pleasing no one and angering everyone”, says RTE. “Remainers cut from the EU will struggle with any deal which is not full membership [while] leavers who do not see a complete break from the EU will always feel their vision was thwarted,” concludes the broadcaster.

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