July 9, 2018 / 12:16 PM / 8 months ago

Breakingviews - May's Brexit plan faces battle on three fronts

Britain's Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union David Davis leaves 10 Downing Street, London, January 29, 2018

LONDON (Reuters Breakingviews) - Theresa May’s Brexit plan faces a battle on three fronts. The resignation of cabinet minister David Davis on Sunday night will embolden hardliners in her party who say the Prime Minister’s proposal to quit the European Union is too soft. But opposition parties still think it’s too hard, and Brussels is bound to want more concessions. With less than nine months to go until Britain leaves the bloc, it’s getting harder to envisage a compromise.

May’s cabinet is split between those who are determined to sever ties with the EU, and those who want to limit the economic damage of Brexit. The plan agreed at her country retreat on Friday is therefore a tangle of contradictions. Britain will leave Europe’s customs union and single market, but sign up to EU rules for trade in goods and agriculture. It will have the right to set its own tariffs, but also collect duties on behalf of the bloc. British courts will make their own judgments, but take account of decisions by their European counterparts.

Supporters of Brexit – Davis included – think this is unacceptable. The plan will tie Britain to the EU, but strip it of the influence that full membership brings. Opponents of Brexit dislike the plan for the same reasons: they think it would be better to stay in. Moreover, the proposal is merely a starting point for negotiations with the European Commission, which is likely to reject parts of it as unworkable and demand more compromises. That will further ratchet up the tension in May’s party.

The Prime Minister could face more resignations, and a challenge to her leadership. But supporters of a harder Brexit do not have a plan which can command a majority in Britain’s parliament. The opposition Labour party will take any opportunity it can to weaken May’s minority government, and probably oppose any deal she presents.

As the clock ticks towards March 2019 the risks of a chaotic Brexit, where Britain crashes out of the bloc without a deal, are rising. So, however, are the chances that its departure is delayed, if parliament cannot agree and the government is forced to beg the EU for more time. Businesses eager for greater certainty face an agonising wait.


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