Theresa May held a cabinet meeting on Friday to decide on the future relationship the UK should have with the European Union, an issue that continues to divide her government with less than nine months to go before Brexit.
The meeting is taking place at Chequers, the country residence of the Prime Minister, and is expected to continue late into the evening.
According to analysts, who expect the meeting to be tense, May will propose aligning the UK with the European rules for trade in goods – a solution that her critics argue would prevent the United Kingdom from signing the kind of trade deals that Brexiteers promised would follow once the UK leaves the bloc.
At the heart of the divisions is the question of the new customs relationship that will be put in place. The business community wants it as close as possible, as does Ireland, a member of the EU, which fears the reinstatement of a physical border with Northern Ireland.
The « Brexiteers » want a solution called « maximum facilitation », which integrates the establishment of customs controls between the United Kingdom and the EU, relying on technological solutions to maintain the fluidity of trade.
Facing them, Finance Minister Philip Hammond and Business Secretary Greg Clark who advocate a « softer » solution involving a customs partnership in which the UK would collect customs duties on behalf of the EU for goods passing through its territory but intended for the common market.
These disputes take place under the impatient eye of Brussels who would like to see the discussions finally progress.
« The sooner we have a precise British proposal on the Irish border, the better the chances of finalizing the Brexit negotiations this year, » said European Council President Donald Tusk this week.
Theresa May is planning to publish her white paper detailing her goals next week.
On Friday, Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, said he was « ready to adapt his offer » and hoped that the white paper will resolve « the UK’s internal political debate and negotiations with us ».
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the EU, spoke on Thursday about the possibility of stalling Brexit. On Friday, however, he stressed that this would require unanimous agreement of the 27 EU members.