Theresa May set to miss her own Brexit white paper deadline after Cabinet infighting

Detailed document now not expected to appear until after crunch EU summit at the end of June - because it is 'riddled with red ink'

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Monday 04 June 2018 13:29 BST
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Theresa May’s promise to publish “ambitious and precise” plans for Brexit this month is likely to be broken after more cabinet infighting.

A detailed white paper – designed to put the UK on the front foot in the troubled talks – is now not expected to appear until after a crunch EU summit at the end of June.

The document is said to still be “riddled with red ink”, with the prime minister reluctant to confront warring cabinet ministers over controversies including future customs rules and the Irish border.

It was due to be published before the two-day Brussels summit, starting on 28 June, but Ms May’s spokesman refused to say that timetable would be met. “I’ve not put a timeframe on it, other than we will bring it forward as soon as possible,” he said.

If the white paper does not appear until after the summit, it will not be published until July – despite the promise to set out “detailed, ambitious and precise” proposals in June.

Such a delay will be seized on as fresh evidence that the cabinet is fatally split on customs arrangements and how to avoid border checks in Ireland.

Hopes of a breakthrough this month are also fading on the continent. Peter Ptassek, Germany’s Brexit envoy, tweeted that little meaningful progress would be reached at the summit.

“Not many are expecting very much now,” he wrote. “If this is so, October would then have to solve ALL problems – withdrawal, Northern Ireland, governance and future – in one go. Odds are still unclear.”

Meanwhile, No 10 is expected to publish its own plans for the “backstop” option, to keep the Irish border open, possibly at the end of this week.

The prime minister has rejected the EU’s proposal for Northern Ireland only to keep EU customs and regulations, if no other solution can be found, because it would create a border in the Irish Sea.

Pro-Brexit cabinet ministers have agreed to a temporary UK-wide version of the backstop – but Brussels has already rejected Ms May’s insistence that it must be “time limited”.

When the white paper was announced last month, it was hailed as the opportunity for the UK to start negotiating with Brussels on its terms – instead of simply reacting to EU proposals.

However, hopes that the cabinet could reach agreement on which of two suggested customs arrangements it will back have since drained away.

A majority of key ministers rejected Ms May’s preferred “customs partnership” – which would see the UK collect EU tariffs – and it cannot be implemented before 2023 anyway.

Meanwhile, customs chiefs appeared to torpedo the alternative, technology based “max fac” proposal favoured by Brexiteers, after revealing it would cost businesses up £20bn a year.

As well as customs, the white paper is also designed to cover long-term arrangements for security, financial services, aviation and fisheries – which are all meant to be agreed in principle by October.

David Davis, the Brexit Secretary, was keen to publish before the summit, but appears to have been unable to convince the prime minister to demand cabinet consensus.

Her spokesman described this month’s get-together as merely a “staging post”, saying: “We are working towards reaching an agreement in October.”

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