Theresa May is rapidly facing the crunch point where she has to finally articulate what sort of relationship Britain wants with the EU. “To govern is to choose,” said Lord Bridges, former Brexit minister, urging Mrs May to get a grip as her cabinet holds two key meetings this week to discuss the Brexit “end state”. The cover of the Conservative-supporting Spectator magazine said simply: “Lead or go”. The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator has warned Theresa May that trade barriers are “unavoidable” if she carries out her plan to leave the customs union. Michel Barnier also told the Prime Minister that “the time has come to make a choice” – reflecting growing Brussels frustration with the UK Government’s failure to set out its aims clearly.
The State of Peril
The hard choices of Brexit have tipped Theresa May’s Conservative Party into open warfare. It’s not clear the prime minister will survive the crossfire. May has held onto her job by avoiding too much clarity on what Britain’s divorce from the European Union might look like, even as the process has been going on for nearly a year. She still hasn’t cleared her vision of Brexit on her divided Cabinet, and that’s led to “huge uncertainty for business,” said Hilary Benn, chairman of Parliament’s Leaving the European Union Committee.
While the parliamentary arithmetic probably supports a divorce that maintains more ties to the European Union, and the anti-Brexit camp is getting more organized, May knows she has to listen to the pro-Brexit hardliners. Her eagerness to keep them onside was underlined late Sunday when her office said the U.K. would leave the bloc’s customs union after the divorce, acceding to a key demand of the Brexit hardliners.
But the anti-EU camp see such a policy as a betrayal of their aims as it would neuter one of the key narratives of their campaign — that Britain should be able to strike trade deals and recover its role as pioneering free-trading nation.