Brexit: Tory cabinet put on public display of unity for Theresa May's Florence speech after week of splits

Philip Hammond and Boris Johnson leave Downing Street side by side following briefing

Joe Watts
Political Editor
Thursday 21 September 2017 14:47 BST
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Theresa May briefs Cabinet on plan to break Brexit talks stalemate

Philip Hammond and Boris Johnson have put on a public display of unity following a crunch cabinet meeting aimed at unifying Theresa May’s ministers behind her plans for Brexit.

The Chancellor and Foreign Secretary are key figures on the two wings of the cabinet pushing Ms May in opposite directions over Brexit, but they departed 10 Downing Street side by side.

They had just been briefed on the contents of a speech to be given by Ms May in Florence tomorrow at which she will make what has being described as an “open and generous” offer to EU leaders in a bid to shift Brexit negotiations towards talking about future trade.

It follows days in which cabinet divisions over the UK’s course were laid bare after Boris Johnson published his own 4,000 word vision for Brexit.

The talks in Downing Street finally broke up after two-and-a-half hours, after which sources indicated Ms May’s speech would point to a transition period of two years, during which the UK would be willing to pay into EU coffers.

Although it is not thought that she will state an actual figure, it has been reported she is willing to pay between £20 billion and £30 billion into EU coffers as the price of Britain's “divorce” bill.

Ms May will instead try and find a new form of words to convince EU leaders that the UK will meet its financial obligations, having also met a string of leaders for closed talks on a visit to the US earlier this week.

The Independent also understands Ms May will steer clear of setting out any long term plan tethering the UK to European Economic Area regulation – with the power to set rules seen by Brexiteers as a key component of “taking back control”.

The EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier has been demanding greater clarity from the UK on its proposed financial settlement if the talks are to move forward on to a future trade deal that Ms May desires.

But giving ground on the issue is tricky with some Brexiteers in the UK insisting the UK pay nothing at all as it leaves the EU.

In his article for The Telegraph earlier this week Mr Johnson demanded the UK should not have to pay for continued access to EU markets after Brexit - although he later made clear he accepted it would have to honour outstanding obligations.

The Foreign Secretary was forced to deny he was planning to resign while Mrs May faced calls to sack him from her cabinet.

He also met Ms May in New York during a meeting of the UN General Assembly and then spent the seven hour flight home with her on the plane, allowing the two to come to a consensus ahead of today’s cabinet.

Mr Hammond has been using his renewed power since the election to steer Ms May towards a Brexit that causes as little disruption as possible, including a transition period that all but keeps the UK in the EU’s single market and customs union.

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