NEWS
03/07/2018 13:52 BST | Updated 13/07/2018 00:40 BST

Your Brief Guide To Why Theresa May's Government Could Implode On Friday

The PM's current situation, as ever, can be perfectly summed up with one line from the The Thick Of It.

After weeks of briefings, disunity and threats, the Cabinet pack their bags and head to Chequers on Friday to try once again to thrash out a position on Brexit.

There’s a lot at stake during what Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has mockingly described as a “sleepover”.

Top Tory Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg has warned of a “breakdown in collective responsibility” in Theresa May’s senior team, with pro-EU ministers openly promoting solutions “against the Prime Minister’s speeches, against the position formally of the Cabinet and against the manifesto”.

He added: “This is really serious, it is constitutionally unsuitable, it is damaging to the Conservative Party and most importantly it weakens us in negotiations.”

So what does it mean for the PM?

What’s It All About?

Negotiations with the EU over Britain’s withdrawal are entering a crunch time in the final few months, ahead of the March 29 departure next year.

The Government is expected to produce a white paper before the European Council meets in October, the date earmarked for a deal with the EU to be completed.

Make no mistake, ministers are cutting things very fine indeed - practically nothing has been agreed on trade, arguably the biggest issue facing the UK post-Brexit.

A trade white paper may sound innocuous but this is the main impasse, with customs arrangements on the Northern Ireland/Ireland border at its heart.

Brexiteers want a maximum facilitation (high-tech) model to keep the border fluid, Remainers prefer a customs partnership where the UK collects duties for the EU.

The EU is having none of it and has already said neither option is acceptable.

How’s The PM Faring?

Theresa May’s current situation, as ever, can be perfectly summed up with one line from the The Thick Of It.

So What’s The Plan?

Good question - Downing Street refused to be drawn on speculation about a third customs model, which according to reports will offer “the best of both worlds” - an independent trade policy and friction-free trade.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said this week: “There is going to be a lot of speculation between now and Chequers.

“Some of it might even be true but I’m not going to engage in advance of the away day taking place.”

Which is all completely unhelpful, does nothing to quell anxieties about what could happen on Friday and sounds suspiciously like there isn’t actually a plan at all.

Which Tories Are Being Difficult?

Jacob Rees-Mogg is currently the thorniest thorn in May’s side having already threatened his boss with a “Brexit rebellion”, helpfully illustrated by the Have I Got News For You team.

The Brexiteer MP wrote in the Daily Telegraph earlier this week: “Any attempt by the EU to impose its laws and Court on the UK, either directly or indirectly, must be rejected.”

The article drew a rebuke from Alan Duncan, a Foreign Office minister, who claimed Rees-Mogg was being insolent.

“Lecturing and threatening the PM is just too much,” Duncan said on Twitter. “Risks debasing govt, party, country & himself. PM must be given maximum latitude & backing.”

Not one to miss an opportunity to stick his oar in, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson then got involved, tweeting: “It’s vital that all MPs are able to air their views on Brexit.

“Whatever your position, I hope we can all agree that Jacob Rees-Mogg is a principled and dedicated MP who wants the best for our country.”

BoJo also complicated matters last month when he is reportes to have adopted the mantra of  “fuck business,” amid concerns in the corporate world about the sort of Brexit favoured by the foreign secretary.

Business secretary Greg Clark was unimpressed. British firms, he told MPs, should be “listened to with respect” when it came to Brexit.

What About Northern Ireland?

May told the DUP that the UK will not remain in the customs union or the single market after Brexit, its deputy leader Nigel Dodds said on Monday.

The Prime Minister said there would be no breaking up of the UK “economically, politically or constitutionally” following Brexit, Dodds told reporters after he and party leader Arlene Foster spent almost 90 minutes in talks with May at 10 Downing Street.

PA Wire/PA Images
Arlene Foster, Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, and the party's deputy leader, Nigel Dodds, leave Downing Street following a meeting with Prime Minister, Theresa May,

A new customs plan to solve the Ireland/Northern Ireland border issue was discussed but the Prime Minister “didn’t go into any details”, he added.

What Do You Think Of It All?

Not much by the looks of things - YouGov polling suggests nearly two-thirds of the Great British public think negotiations are “going badly”.

PA Graphics

What’s The Opposition Saying?

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said: “I don’t envy the Prime Minister as she prepares for her Chequers sleepover. She has many loud and competing voices in her Cabinet – not competing to do the best for this country but to do the best for themselves.

“The Prime Minister’s primary duty is not to manage the latest division in her Cabinet, but to negotiate a deal that will safeguard jobs and living standards for decades to come.”

Has Theresa May Responded?

The PM said Corbyn had wanted to trigger Article 50 immediately after the EU referendum in 2016 and now is “refusing to rule out a second referendum”.

She added: “It’s not just a question of who in the Labour Party agrees with who else, (Corbyn) can’t even agree with himself.”

Has Farage Piped Up?

Inevitably.

The former Ukip leader dismissed Friday’s Chequers summit, saying May is “not intending to deliver” what Brexit voters want.

He told BBC One’s Sunday Politics: “It is a big sell out, some would even say betrayal of what Brexit voters expected.”

So What’s Next?

Here are the key milestones expected as Britain leaves the European Union:

PA Graphics