'Patience is wearing thin': Theresa May to delay Brexit decisions as civil service struggles with workload

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  • Ministers are meeting this week to discuss Britain’s future relationship with the EU.
  • However, Theresa May’s Brexit “war Cabinet” is not expected to decide on a preferred endstate until the end of a month, a senior official has told Politico.
  • Michel Barnier warned Britain the “time has come to make a choice” on Brexit.
  • Business leaders say “patience is wearing thin” with government dithering.

LONDON – Theresa May’s government is reportedly not ready to come to an agreement on what sort of future relationship it wants with the European Union despite holding two further crunch Cabinet meetings on Brexit this week.

The prime minister will meet with a sub-Cabinet of ministers including Chancellor Philip Hammond, Brexit Secretary David Davis and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson today and tomorrow to discuss their preferred Brexit “end state.”

The meetings were originally billed as a potential breakthrough moment in talks between the UK government and EU. However, government officials yesterday downplayed the possibility of a breakthrough with a further Cabinet ‘Brexit away day’ being planned for next week.

Brexit talks resume this week but Britain is yet to communicate what it wants its future relationship with the bloc to be. This stage of talks will first focus on transition, before moving onto future trade and customs ties.

However, those within the group are not treating this as “decision week” and a position might not be finalised under later this month, a senior UK official close to discussions has told Politico.

This will likely irk EU officials who have told Britain to make its mind up on what it wants from Brexit. Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, warned Britain the “time has now come to make a choice” while in London this week.

The sub-Cabinet, or Brexit “war Cabinet” as it has been dubbed, is even further away from reaching an agreement on what customs relationship Britain should have with the EU after it has left the bloc, the same source added.

On Sunday night, Prime Minister May categorically ruled out Britain staying in either the current customs union or forming a new customs union with the EU after Brexit.

The statement followed a weekend in which senior Cabinet figures had publicly clashed over the issue.

Amber RuddBBCAmber Rudd was at the centre of a Cabinet split after saying Theresa May had an ‘open mind’ about the customs union.

On Sunday morning the Home Secretary Amber Rudd told the BBC that the prime minister had an “open mind” about the issue. However, this was later dismissed by the Housing Minister Dominic Raab, who told Sky News that: “I don’t think we’ll be in any form of customs union, at least as conceived in international trade practice.”

The British Chamber of Commerce has today published a strongly-worded letter addressed to May, warning the prime minister that “patience is wearing thin” among business leaders with government indecision.

“The BCC has refrained from entering into the noisy political debate on the shape of the final settlement in recent weeks,” the letter says. We have instead emphasised the need for answers to the many practical questions businesses now face.”

“Yet businesses need those elected to govern our country to make choices – and to deliver a clear, unequivocal statement of intent.”

“The perception amongst businesses on the ground, large and small alike, is one of continued division. Even amongst the many optimistic, future-oriented firms – those who see opportunity in change – patience is wearing thin.”

The government is even further away from making decisions on Britain’s future immigration arrangements. A spokesperson for Theresa May indicated yesterday at a briefing attended by Business Insider that decisions on Britain’s post-immigration policy would not be taken until after Britain has agreed a transition period with the EU.

“A damaging and unmanageable muddle”

A new report put together by the public accounts committee and published on Wednesday suggests the government has so far been “too slow” in preparing for Britain’s departure from the EU.

Key government departments still need to recruit hundreds of staff and the closing down of pre-Brexit programmes in order to create time and resources for delivering Britain’s exit is still to take place, the report concludes.

The parliamentary committee’s deputy chairman, Brexit-backing MP Sir Geoffrey-Clinton Brown, said Brexit was a “complicated task with the potential to become a damaging and unmanageable muddle.”

The Conservative MP added: “It is concerning that government departments still have so far to go to put their plans into practice.

“[The] real world will not wait for the government to get its house in order.”

The Department for Exiting the EU alone has identified 313 “workstreams” which still need to be completed and brought “up to scratch,” the report warns.

An Institute For Government report published earlier this month found that the Brexit department was the least transparent of all government units in 2016-2017.

The David Davis-led department responded to just 18%, 10% and 15% of Freedom Of Information requests in full in 2016-2017.

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