LONDON – Britain will not “surrender” in its fight to win a bespoke deal with the European Union that would offer tariff-free trade as well as control over immigration, a minister said on Sunday before a crunch week for the government in Brexit negotiations.
Interior minister Amber Rudd was one of several senior Conservative lawmakers to take to the airwaves to support Prime Minister Theresa May, under pressure from Brexit hard-liners who fear she is diluting her plans for a clean break with the EU.
With reports in the local media suggesting that pro-Brexit ministers are being urged to get ready to replace May, Rudd tried to play down the deep divisions in government, saying there was more unity than so-called Brexiteers thought.
“We want to have a bespoke agreement. Now we’re not going to surrender before we have that battle,” Rudd told the BBC when asked whether ministers were pursuing what the EU has already ruled out as “having its cake and eating it” — demanding tariff-free access to the EU’s market while controlling immigration.
She also told the Andrew Marr Show she supported May in demanding that EU citizens arriving after Brexit Day in March 2019 should have settlement rights different to those who came before that date — something the EU has opposed.
Asked whether Brexit campaigners were right to say that some in her cabinet were trying to blunt prospects for a wholesale departure from with the EU, Rudd said: “I have a surprise for the Brexiteers, which is the committee that meets in order to help make these decisions … is more united than they think.”
Her words come at the beginning of a week when the government will flesh out some of its demands in negotiations with the EU on their future relationship and Brexit negotiations start in earnest again.
The government’s Brexit subcommittee of ministers will also meet twice this week, Rudd said, adding: “I think that we will arrive at something which suits us all.”
Other Conservative lawmakers backed her message, with junior housing minister Dominic Raab saying there wasn’t “a fag (cigarette) paper” between ministers on their stance on the future relationship.
But the choreographed display of unity did little to mask a growing dispute over a leaked document suggesting the economy will be worse off after Brexit whether Britain left with a free trade deal, with access to the EU’s single market, or with no deal at all.
The leak, which bolstered arguments from some lawmakers to stay in the EU’s customs union to protect the economy, prompted allegations from Brexit campaigners that the civil service was trying to undermine Britain’s departure.
A former head of the civil service, Gus O’Donnell, said the allegations were unfounded and offered up by those who did not like what they heard.
“If you’re selling snake oil, you don’t like the idea of experts testing your product,” he told ITV’s Peston on Sunday. “And I think that’s what we’ve got this backlash against evidence and experts is because they know where the experts will go.”