Brexit Secretary David Davis could sensationally quit the Government if Theresa May refuses to toughen up plans to avoid the UK being tied to EU customs rules indefinitely.
HuffPost has been told that the Cabinet minister feels so strongly about the terms of the UK’s so-called “backstop” proposal for Brexit that he’s not ruling out resignation.
The row centres on May’s plans to keep the whole of the UK in a customs union with the EU, if no other way can be found to avoid a “hard border” in Northern Ireland.
Amid fevered speculation that Davis was on the edge of walking out on Wednesday night, May now faces a dramatic showdown over the issue when senior ministers meet to discuss the plans on Thursday.
“No resignation…not tonight,” one senior source said. “He’s fighting his corner”.
Some Brexiteers want a specified end-date for the “backstop” proposal and argue that without one there is a risk of a “Hotel California Brexit”, where the UK can check out of the EU but effectively never leave.
So far, May and No.10 have only committed to a vague promise to ensure the fall-back plan is “time-limited” without putting a date on that time limit.
Some ministers are furious that a four-page draft of the proposal does not include a legally-enforceable end date, and suspect that the UK would be tied into becoming a perpetual rule-taker from Brussels.
Davis and others want a way for the UK to unilaterally pull out of the ‘backstop’ idea if Brussels fails to deliver a deal on other areas.
May has already infuriated some backbenchers by agreeing to a 21-month ‘transition’ period after the UK formally quits the EU next March, during which many trade and other links will remain the same.
ITV News political editor Robert Peston tweeted that he would not bet against Davis resigning on Thursday.
Davis set the hares running earlier when he was asked by reporters if he would be able to stay in his job if the backstop proposal was published without his approval.
He replied: “That’s a question, I think, for the Prime Minister, to be honest.”
“The detail of this is being discussed at the moment. it’s been through one cabinet committee, it’s going to another and it would be improper of me to pre-empt the negotiations there, but I suspect it will be fairly decisive.”
HuffPost understands that Davis is insisting that the UK should make plain that if there is no deal, there should be no backstop plan either. He fears the Government risks weakening its negotiating position if it agrees to the EU’s version.
Davis, who famously quit David Cameron’s Shadow Cabinet to fight for civil liberties, has repeatedly looked on the edge of resignation but has always stepped back from the brink.
He was among several ministers, including Boris Johnson, who recently warned May that her plan for a customs ‘partnership’ with Brussels is unworkable.
May has so far refused to publish a promised White Paper on Brexit, setting out Britain’s key proposals for its exit terms and a future relationship with the EU.
Davis had wanted the paper to be ready before the June EU summit, and Tory allies believe he has been steadily sidelined by the PM in favour of her lead Brexit civil servant Olly Robbins.
The EU has demanded that ‘sufficient progress’ has to be made on key issues like the Northern Ireland border before moving to substantive talks on a post-Brexit EU-UK trade deal.