Brexit: PM's compromises a 'concern' for cabinet ministers

Brexit: PM's compromises a 'concern' for cabinet ministers

Brexit: PM's compromises a 'concern' for cabinet ministers

UK Prime Minister Theresa May was challenged by a number of her cabinet ministers, including Liam Fox, the worldwide trade secretary and Michael Gove, the environment secretary, on Thursday who voiced concerns over her new backstop plan, fearing it would keep the UK in a customs union with the EU for an open-ended period of time.

Such an arrangement would all but end May's chances of securing free trade deals with other countries.

The UK has suggested a temporary customs arrangement between the European Union and country as a whole, with the expectation that a permanent future deal would be in place by the end of 2021.

Under the EU plan, Northern Ireland would effectively remain part of the single market and the customs union - and subject to their rules - until a free trade agreement is in place.

Earlier, Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey, who was not at the Downing Street meeting, pointedly refused to endorse the Prime Minister's Chequers blueprint for Brexit.

The Prime Minister knows the consequences if she walks away from her Brexit promise to unionists, the DUP has warned.

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A recent statement from European Union chief negotiator Michel Barnier says an agreement could be reached by next Wednesday: this pushed the British pound higher.

The BBC understands concerns centred around plans to ensure no hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Downing Street also announced a further 29 no-deal notices would be published on Friday afternoon, setting out what businesses and consumers should do in the event of there being no agreement by 29 March 2019.

Reports of a growing government revolt emerged ahead of a high-stakes summit in Brussels next week aimed at nailing down the details of the two sides' divorce terms.

The Irish border "backstop", which seeks a way to avoid customs checks on the frontier between the British province of Northern Ireland and Ireland if there is no overall exit deal, has become the biggest sticking point in negotiations.

Finance minister Philip Hammond said there had been a "measurable change in pace" in talks in the last 10 days, but there were "some big differences left to resolve".

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On Wednesday, EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said there would have to be checks on goods travelling to Northern Ireland from the rest of the United Kingdom, because they would effectively be arriving in the EU's single market if there was no hard border with the Republic of Ireland.

Many Cabinet ministers last night warned May that the plan simply would not pass through the Commons if it did not contain a time-limited provision because it would look like the United Kingdom had agreed to an endless customs union with Europe, the BBC reported.

"I would advise them to hold firm against Brexit because either of these choices are unpalatable", he said at an event in London hosted by Reuters.

International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt and the Leader of the Commons Andrea Leadsom - who, like Ms McVey, both backed Leave in the referendum in 2016 - were also said to harbour deep concerns.

Boris Johnson, the former Foreign Secretary, said: "This is an important moment".

"Many of her cabinet colleagues have assured me of their unionism", she said.

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