Saturday 24 March 2018

May's cabinet 'tearing itself apart' over EU negotiation

British Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond
British Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond

Rob Merrick

British Prime Minister Theresa May is facing damaging accusations that her government is "tearing itself apart" over Brexit, as the critical negotiations resume in Brussels.

Brexit Secretary David Davis will hold fresh talks with the European Commission's chief negotiator today, just a day after the cabinet's deep policy split was revealed by Chancellor Philip Hammond.

Mr Hammond lifted the lid on cabinet feuding by claiming damaging stories about him had come from fellow ministers out to get him because he is pushing for a softer Brexit. Meanwhile, Liam Fox, the International Trade Secretary, fired his own warning shot by laying down strict conditions for any transitional deal, as demanded by the chancellor. Mr Fox ruled out any delay to full EU withdrawal that prevented Britain from signing trade deals with non-EU countries from day one after departure day, in March 2019.

Liberal Democrats leader Tim Farron seized on the splits, saying: "The Conservative government is more interested in tearing itself apart than getting on with the monumental challenge it has set itself on Brexit."

In Brussels, Mr Davis is expected to insist the government is now ready to "get down to business", after EU warnings that "the clock is ticking" on Britain. He will press for agreement on the future rights of three million EU citizens living in the UK, and one million Britons living in the EU, as his "personal priority" for the second round of the talks.

EU leaders have already rejected Mrs May's "generous offer" to EU citizens in the UK as falling short, insisting it will deprive them of some current rights.

The other key conflicts are over the size of the divorce bill that Britain must pay to meet its obligations to the EU and over the threat to the Border with Ireland.

Crucially, last month, Mr Davis caved in to the EU's insistence that the talks would move on to trade only when "enough progress" had been made on Brussels' three priorities.

The talks resume against the backdrop of the chancellor lashing out against unnamed colleagues he accused of leaks against him. Mr Hammond all but admitted a report he had told the cabinet that public-sector workers are "overpaid" was true - while denying he had said "even a woman" can drive a train.

Asked why colleagues are "going for you", he pointed to disputes over Brexit, saying: "Some of the noise is generated by people who are not happy with the agenda that I have."

Mr Farron added: "Philip Hammond recognises that leaving the single market would be catastrophic for the UK economy, yet Theresa May and much of the Conservative cabinet is pushing through a disastrous extreme Brexit." (© Independent News Service)

Independent News Service

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Editors Choice

Also in World News