Theresa May calls for Brexit talks amid fears of growing split at heart of Government

Tom Peck
Sunday 28 August 2016 12:30 BST
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Theresa May has summoned ministers to Chequers to discuss Brexit
Theresa May has summoned ministers to Chequers to discuss Brexit (Philip Toscano/PA)

Theresa May has summoned ministers to Chequers to discuss how to make a success of Brexit in the face of opposition from civil servants and a growing feud among the senior ministers in charge of negotiations.

Though Ms May has handed prominent roles to pro-Brexit colleagues in her new government, the majority of her ministers still campaigned for Britain to remain in the European Union, including her Chancellor Philip Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd.

There are also concerns that the civil service is institutionally opposed to leaving the EU, and there is significant resentment of Ms May’s significant departmental restructuring, which has seen several top people moved from the Foreign Office and other departments to the new Department for Exiting the European Union and the Department for International Trade.

Theresa May says she has an 'open mind' over Brexit negotiations

The civil service must remain politically neutral, but its former chief Gus O’Donnell, now a crossbench peer, told The Times that Brexit "was not an inevitability" and suggested that if one of the consequences of the Brexit vote was significant reform of the EU, into a more loosely aligned coalition of countries, that Britain could remain a part of it.

Despite reports of a feud between the ministers in charge of the main Brexit departments – Boris Johnson, David Davis and Liam Fox – Ms May will attempt to use Wednesday's meeting to compare the unity in Tory ranks with the chaos in the Labour Party.

She is expected to trigger Article 50 early in the new year without a parliamentary vote – something that has led opponents to accuse her of acting like a "Tudor monarch".

Labour’s shadow international trade secretary Barry Gardiner said: “The logic of saying the Prime Minister can trigger Article 50 without first setting out to parliament the terms and basis upon which her government seeks to negotiate – indeed, without even indicating the red lines she will seek to protect – would be to diminish parliament and assume the arrogant powers of a Tudor monarch."

Tim Farron, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, said: "To impose a swift exit on the British people without giving the people or their representatives a say is a betrayal of British democracy."

Labour leadership candidate Owen Smith said the Prime Minister was “running scared”.

“Theresa May is clearly running scared from parliamentary scrutiny of her Brexit negotiations,” he said. “She’s looked at the numbers and she knows she might not win a vote in parliament.

“She hasn’t set out what Brexit means and she doesn’t want to be held to account on vital issues such as stripping away workers’ rights and environmental safeguards.”

The UK has two years in which to formally negotiate its way out of the European Union once Article 50 is triggered. Once it is invoked, it would be up to the European Union, and not the UK, if it wished to change its mind. Conditions of re-entry would be unlikely to be as favourable as the ones the UK currently enjoys: outside of the eurozone and the Schengen border agreement and with a large annual budget rebate.

Ms May will attend the G20 Summit in China next weekend, where she will hold informal discussions with other world leaders about the possibility of bilateral free trade deals with the UK.

Meanwhile, a a leading pension consultancy firm has warned that the impact of Brexit will leave 75 per cent of Britons living on pensions below the Government required level. A survey by Hymans Robertsons found that the sustained period of low interest rates since the 2008 crash will spell the end of final salary pension schemes, and said people would have to save 2 to 3 per cent more fo their income for their retirement.

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