Brexit Bulletin: Do You Trust Her?

(Bloomberg) -- Today in Brexit: The choice Theresa May has to make between siding with Brexit hardliners or those seeking a cosier divorce is looking increasingly perilous.

Prime Minister Theresa May now has the three big Brexit backers in her Cabinet lined up against her. On the other side, pro-EU lawmakers are getting organized and offering a way out. Whichever way she turns, she might end up toppled.

Trust me,” she wrote in the Sunday Times, in a plea to Cabinet ministers who suspect her of betraying the Brexit campaign. But trust is in short supply. Environment Secretary Michael Gove, a key figure in the referendum campaign and possible future leader, told the BBC over the weekend that, like Boris Johnson, he thinks May’s plan for trade after Brexit is flawed.

May is meant to meet her ministers on Tuesday to thrash out what the future customs setup should look like.

Brexit Bulletin: Do You Trust Her?

Her plan — which has been labeled crazy by Boris Johnson and is based on a complicated and untested system — also won some support over the weekend from Ken Clarke, a devoted pro-EU Conservative who has been a leader in the soft-Brexit rebellion in Parliament. Clarke, who has signed amendments pushing for the U.K. to stay in the customs union, told the BBC he could consider voting for May’s plan.

The EU is offering May a bit of support. Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar has said her customs plan could be made to work, and Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney was encouraging over the weekend. EU officials have asked negotiators some questions about the plan, a sign they are at least engaging with it.

Brexiters will read all this no doubt as proof that May’s plan is really a plot to keep the U.K. in the customs union by another name.

If May decides to throw in her lot with Parliament and push for closer ties to the EU, she risks a leadership challenge and high-profile resignations that would weaken her credibility as the prime minister delivering the Brexit people voted for. If she goes with the Brexit-backers, she increases the risk of no deal and goads Parliament to defeat her.

Today’s Must-Reads

  • David Miliband, Nick Clegg and Nicky Morgan set out in the Mail on Sunday their campaign to get members of Parliament to push for closer ties with the EU, arguing that Brexit hardliners are holding the country to ransom.
  • Banks and insurers relocating to Luxembourg are finding there aren’t enough candidates in the tiny nation with the right skills to fill the jobs created by Brexit, Stephanie Bodoni reports.

Brexit in Brief

Spy Talk | MI5 chief Andrew Parker will warn of the continued threat of attacks on Britain from Islamic State and Russia in a rare speech in Berlin on Monday. The speech bolsters Theresa May’s efforts to paint the U.K. as a leading security actor and a crucial partner to the EU post-Brexit.

Maintaining Influence | A House of Lords panel argues that the U.K. must spell out its plans for post-Brexit cooperation on foreign and security policy before next month’s European summit if it wants to keep working closely with EU allies. Joint missions “have made a significant contribution to U.K. foreign policy priorities and been an important channel of U.K. influence,” and it’s not clear how the government intends to maintain that influence after the split.

No to EEA | Labour Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer rejected calls to keep Britain in the European Economic Area — the so-called Norway option — as pressure builds on the main U.K. opposition party to back closer ties with he bloc. He spoke after former Labour leader Neil Kinnock wrote in the Independent that refusal to try to keep Britain in the EEA would be a “serious evasion of duty.”

Irish Hopeful | Irish Foreign Minister Coveney said he’s hopeful Britain will bring forward ideas on how to avoid a hard border. “If that’s a customs partnership great; if it’s something else, we want to hear what that is,” he said.

Meanwhile, in Italy | The Five Star Movement and the League have all but completed their plan for government as they prepare to seek the green light from the president to take power. The populist plan includes a flat tax as low as 15 percent, a guaranteed income for the poor and a lower retirement age.

Coming Up | Chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier briefs European affairs ministers and then is expected to give a news conference. He also speaks on a panel about EU foreign and security policy. Theresa May’s inner Brexit cabinet is penciled in for Tuesday, though her office isn’t confirming it.

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To contact the author of this story: Emma Ross-Thomas in London at erossthomas@bloomberg.net.

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