Monday 15 October 2018

May calls for Brexit unity and says Trump's 'brutal' advice was 'sue the EU'

US President Donald Trump with Theresa May. Photo: REUTERS
US President Donald Trump with Theresa May. Photo: REUTERS

Gavin Condon

British Prime Minister Theresa May yesterday appealed to warring Tory MPs to back her controversial blueprint for Brexit and avoid a disorderly withdrawal from the EU that would damage Britain's interests.

Ahead of a crucial week in parliament, Mrs May acknowledged feelings in the party were running high, but said her plan offered a "hard-headed and practical" way forward.

However, leading Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg warned trust in Mrs May was waning amid acrimonious claims key ministers, including David Davis, were kept in the dark about her proposals.

In a scathing aside, he accused her of failing to embrace the opportunities of Brexit, saying she was "a Remainer who remained a Remainer".

MPs will today vote on a series of amendments to the Customs Bill tabled by members of the European Research Group (ERG), which Mr Rees-Mogg leads, intended to scupper her plans for a "UK-EU free trade area" based on a "common rule book".

With no Labour backing, the changes stand little chance of getting through, although the votes could provide Conservative Brexiteers with the opportunity to stage a show of strength in Parliament.

Meanwhile Boris Johnson, who quit as UK foreign secretary in protest after the plan was agreed by the cabinet at Chequers, was reported to be preparing to make a resignation statement in the Commons, providing another potential flashpoint.

Mrs May could then face a further challenge tomorrow, this time from pro-EU Tories seeking to amend the Trade Bill to keep the UK in a customs union with the EU, although it is unclear whether they will now put it to a vote.

The UK prime minister said she had been forced to come forward with the revised proposals after the EU had offered two options, either remain in the customs union and accept continued freedom of movement or see Northern Ireland effectively "carved out" from the UK, neither of which was acceptable.

"Faced with that we had an option. We could go for no deal, no deal is still possible, but I think the best thing for the UK is to have a deal that sets a good relationship with our trading partners in the future," she told BBC1's 'The Andrew Marr Show'.

She also revealed that Donald Trump advised her to "sue" the European Union to resolve the tense negotiations over Britain's impending exit from the bloc.

The US president told reporters on Friday that he had given the British leader a suggestion that she found too "brutal".

Asked yesterday by Andrew Marr what that suggestion was, Mrs May said: "He told me I should sue the EU. Not go into negotiation, sue them."

She quickly followed with a laugh: "Actually we're going into negotiations with them."

She added: "Interestingly, what the president also said at that press conference was 'don't walk away. Don't walk away from the negotiations. Then you're stuck'."

It wasn't exactly clear what Mr Trump meant, but the revelation capped a series of explosive and undiplomatic remarks he made this week about Mrs May's leadership - especially her handling of the Brexit negotiations - as he made his first official visit to Britain.

Mr Trump said the British leader's approach had likely "killed" chances of a free-trade deal with the United States.

Irish Independent

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