May calls on Cabinet to ‘stand together and stand firm’ on Brexit

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Theresa May has called on her Cabinet to “stand together and stand firm” on Brexit, after negotiations with the EU stalled in the run-up to a crucial summit.

The Prime Minister’s plea came in an extended three-hour meeting of Cabinet at 10 Downing Street, where ministers offered strong support for her insistence any Brexit deal must preserve the integrity of the Union and cannot bind the UK indefinitely into a customs backstop arrangement.

Despite intense speculation over a possible walkout in recent days, no minister indicated they might consider resigning from the Government over Brexit.

Cabinet meeting
International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt arrives for the Cabinet meeting at 10 Downing Street (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Reports from Brussels suggested senior European Commission officials were casting doubt on the prospect of a special Brexit summit in November if no agreement has been reached by then on the “backstop” arrangement being sought to avoid a hard border in Ireland.

The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said “we need more time” to find an agreement to deliver an orderly UK withdrawal and keep the Irish border open.

“We will take this time, calmly and seriously, to find this global agreement in the next weeks,” he said.

The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said ‘we need more time’ to reach a deal (European Commission Audiovisual Services)

– That it would not be possible for her or any other UK Prime Minister to sign up to an agreement that which created a customs border down the Irish Sea;

– That any agreement must ensure that the UK is not kept indefinitely in a “backstop” arrangement against its will.

Mrs May’s official spokesman said the PM received “strong” support from Cabinet on these two points.

The Prime Minister told Cabinet she was committed to securing a Brexit that delivers on the referendum result, safeguards jobs and security and preserves the Union, telling ministers: “I’m convinced that if we as a Government stand together and stand firm, we can achieve this.”

Eight Brexit-backing ministers took the highly unusual step of meeting on the eve of Cabinet to discuss, over pizzas, their concerns about Mrs May’s approach.

But two of those present at the “pizza summit” in the office of Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom played down suggestions of rebellion against the Prime Minister.

International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt told Sky News: “No-one is planning on resigning. We are all doing our jobs and we are trying to get the best deal for this country, and that’s it.

“We are approaching the end of negotiations. This is going to be a difficult time, but the whole Cabinet is digging in to get the best deal for this country.”

And Mrs Leadsom herself said: “The Prime Minister is doing a very, very complicated job and I’m fully supporting her in getting that done.”

Public opinion of government’s Brexit negotiations
(PA Graphics)

Ministers arriving for Cabinet on Tuesday morning were offered sausage and bacon sandwiches.

In Luxembourg, foreign ministers from the remaining 27 EU states were receiving a briefing from Mr Barnier at the General Affairs Council.

Arriving for the meeting, Germany’s Europe minister, Michael Roth, said his message to Mrs May was: “Take responsibility and be constructive.”

German Europe minister Michael Roth called on Theresa May to ‘take responsibility’ (European Commission Audiovisual Services)

“The British side needs support. Without a clear vote in the European Parliament and without a clear vote in the British Parliament, it won’t succeed in the end.”

Mrs May is due to address leaders of the EU27 on Wednesday evening before leaving them to discuss the next steps on Brexit over dinner in her absence.

With no likelihood of a deal this week, doubts were being raised over the prospect of a special Brexit summit on November 17-18.

This has variously been framed as a final opportunity to reach agreement or as a chance for the 27 to make preparations for a disorderly no-deal withdrawal.

Belgium’s foreign minister, Didier Reynders, put the chances of the UK crashing out without a deal at “50/50”.

The Prime Minister told the House of Commons on Monday that an exit agreement is still “achievable”.

And European Council president Donald Tusk urged both sides to keep making every effort to find a deal.

In a letter to EU leaders, Mr Tusk said the Brexit negotiations had “proven to be more complicated than some may have expected”.

But he added: “We should nevertheless remain hopeful and determined, as there is good will to continue these talks on both sides…

“As someone rightly said: ‘It always seems impossible until it’s done.’ Let us not give up.”

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