Brexit negotiations begin as Theresa May faces growing pressure to drop ‘Hard Brexit’ plans

Theresa May
Prime Minister Theresa May is under pressure to drop Hard Brexit plans. Leon Neal / Getty
  • Brexit negotiations begin on Monday morning.
  • Brexit secretary David Davis will meet with the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier in Brussels.
  • Leading Business groups call on prime minister Theresa May to drop “Hard Brexit” plans.
  • The Chancellor says no deal would be “very, very, bad” for Britain.
  • May faces possible leadership challenge as poll puts Labour three points ahead.

LONDON — Brexit negotiations will begin on Monday morning despite a widening Cabinet rift over Britain’s negotiating aims and growing doubts about the future of prime minister Theresa May.

Brexit Minister David Davis will this morning meet with chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier in Brussels for the first day of what he described as “historic” talks that will set Britain on the road to leaving the EU.

“Today marks the start of negotiations that will shape the future of the European Union and the United Kingdom, and the lives of our citizens,” he is expected to say.

“While there is a long road ahead, our destination is clear — a deep and special partnership between the UK and the EU. A deal like no other in history.”

The early stages of the talks are expected to focus on Britain’s ‘divorce’ from the EU, the future of EU citizens living in the UK, and the Northern Ireland border. Talks on Britain’s future relationship with the bloc are to be held back until later in the year.

The negotiations begin as May faces open criticism from senior Cabinet members about her failed election campaign and growing pressure to drop her plans for a “Hard Brexit,” which would see Britain leave the EU Single Market and Customs Union.

Both Davis and May remain committed to plans to crash out of the EU if no deal is secured in two years, saying that “no deal is better than a bad deal.”

May’s foreign secretary Boris Johnson has insisted previously that such an outcome would be “perfectly OK.”

However, five leading Business groups have sent an open letter to the government pleading with it to soften its approach and “put the economy first” in talks.

The letter from the British Chambers of Commerce, Confederation of British Industry, EEF, Federation of Small Businesses, and Institute of Directors, calls on the government to accept continued membership of the Single Market and Customs union until any new trade deal is signed and implemented — a process that trade experts suggest could take up to a decade.

Hammond attacks May

Philip hammond theresa may

Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire/PA Images
Conservative party leader Theresa May and Chancellor Philip Hammond

May’s chancellor Philip Hammond also distanced himself from May’s hardline position yesterday, saying that crashing out of the EU without a deal would be “very, very bad” for Britain.

In a scathing attack on May’s failed election campaign, Hammond also told the Andrew Marr Show that he had been prevented from selling the government’s record on the economy.

“It was a mistake for the campaign not to focus more on an area where we have a great story to tell — our record on the economy,” he said. “I think it was a mistake that we didn’t spend more time and resources taking apart Jeremy Corbyn’s economic proposals and his spending plans, which are frankly incredible and would do enormous damage to this country, to our jobs, to our economy. I think that was a mistake.”

May has been told she has just over a week to recover her position, or face a leadership challenge, according to a report in the Sunday Times.

Labour ahead in new poll

It comes as a new poll puts Labour three points ahead of the Conservatives. According to the Survation poll, Labour has 44% of the public’s support, ahead of the Conservatives on 41%.

Survation Poll

  • Labour: 44% (+4)*
  • Conservatives: 41% (-1)
  • Liberal Democrats 6% (n/c)
  • UKIP 2% (-1)

*Changes with 2017 general election.

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