May and ministers to thrash out Brexit position at Chequers

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Theresa May will gather her warring Cabinet at Chequers to thrash out the Government’s position on Brexit – but not until after this month’s meeting of EU leaders.

The Prime Minister and her senior ministers will settle the details of the Brexit white paper on an away day at the Buckinghamshire retreat.

Mrs May is keen to show she is making progress on the process of leaving the European Union after criticism from Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and a row with Brexit Secretary David Davis in recent days.

Plans for the Brexit white paper were announced in May when Mr Davis said it would be the Government’s “most significant publication on the EU since the referendum”.

Mrs May told reporters at the G7 summit in Canada: “There is going to be a lot of activity in the negotiations over the coming weeks.”

The return of the EU (Withdrawal) Bill to the Commons next week will be followed by the June 28 European Council.

Mrs May said that at the gathering of EU leaders “we’ll be talking about finalising withdrawal agreement but also pressing on the future relationship”.

“After that I’ll be bringing my ministers together for an away day at Chequers to finalise the white paper that we are going to be publishing and then before Parliament breaks for the summer we’ll be bringing the Trade and Customs Bills back to the House of Commons and throughout all of that time the negotiations will be continuing.

“The British people want us to deliver Brexit and I’m getting on and doing exactly that and I’m doing it because there is a prize for us at the end of this which is a brighter future for Britain in control of our laws, our money and our borders.”

Mrs May’s announcement on the white paper comes after she was forced to defend her approach after criticism from Mr Johnson.

She said the Foreign Secretary has strong views on Brexit “but so do I”, as she attempted to downplay Mr Johnson’s outburst on how negotiations are progressing.

The Prime Minister claimed “nobody ever said it was going to be easy” to quit the European Union but pledged to “deliver Brexit for the British people”.

Mr Johnson’s indiscreet remarks about Brexit, which saw him call for “guts” in the negotiations, emerged as Mrs May was in mid-air en route to Canada.

Quizzed by broadcasters on her arrival in La Malbaie, she said: “Boris has strong views on Brexit but so do I.”

The Foreign Secretary told a private dinner there was a risk Brexit “will not be the one we want” and would keep the UK locked in orbit around the EU.

At the gathering of the Conservative Way Forward, a Thatcherite campaign group, he branded the Treasury the heart of Remain and claimed negotiations were approaching a moment of truth.

Mr Johnson was heard warning of a Brexit meltdown and said the UK could end up in the customs union and to a large extent still in the single market in the recording obtained by BuzzFeed News.

The Prime Minister was “going to go into a phase where we are much more combative with Brussels”, the Cabinet minister said.

He also claimed fears about the border on the island of Ireland were out of proportion and said it was “beyond belief that we’re allowing the tail to wag the dog in this way”.

Mrs May told Channel 4 News: “These are complex negotiations. Boris has strong views on Brexit but so do I.

“I want to deliver for the British people, that’s exactly what we are doing as a Government and if you look at the process of these negotiations – nobody ever said it was going to be easy.”

It comes as the PM’s latest Brexit proposals received a frosty reception in Brussels, Michel Barnier raising objections to her plan for a time-limited customs backstop covering the whole UK.

But within minutes of concluding a press conference in Brussels, the chief EU negotiator took to Twitter to correct the impression that he was rejecting the UK proposals out of hand, stressing that they would be the subject of discussions in the coming days and weeks.

Responding, Mrs May told the BBC: “This is a negotiation, Michel Barnier has said exactly that point.

“We have put a proposal on the table, on this backstop relating to Northern Ireland, we will now sit down and negotiate it with the European Union.”

Friends of Mr Johnson said it was disappointing that the private dinner had been covertly recorded but senior Conservative Sarah Wollaston said dressing up the comments “under the cover of a ‘private’ discussions won’t wash”.

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