Theresa May heads back as ministers flesh out post-Brexit aims

Theresa May heads back as ministers flesh out post-Brexit aims

Theresa May is expected to arrive back in Downing Street on Thursday as ministers spend the week fleshing out details of their hopes for Britain’s future with the EU after Brexit.

The UK Government will spell out its aims for new customs arrangements after the UK has quit the bloc in documents released by Brexit Secretary David Davis.

A position paper on the fraught issue of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic is also due to be published later this week.

It comes as Mrs May is expected to be back at her desk on Thursday after holidays in Europe totalling around three weeks.

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The Prime Minister enjoyed a break in Italy lasting nearly a week at the end of July and is now away with husband Philip in Switzerland.

The Government has faced complaints from Brussels over a lack of clarity on the British negotiating position on Brexit.

Downing Street said it was clear the talks had shown that the divorce could only be settled with in light of the future relationship with the EU.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We had the first rounds of the negotiation and those talks have shown that many of the withdrawal questions can only be settled in light of the future partnership, so now is the time to set out our approach to that partnership to inform the upcoming negotiations and to provide citizens and businesses at home and across Europe with a deeper understanding of our thinking.”

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier is reported to have warned his first two rounds of talks with Mr Davis, covering the opening issues of the Irish border, the rights of EU citizens in the UK, and Britain’s “divorce bill”, had made limited progress.

Meanwhile, The Times said the slow progress so far had led to complaints in Whitehall that senior officials were now trying to rush through decisions in an attempt to break the policy logjam.

There were said to be concerns that Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood and the Permanent Secretary at the Department for Exiting the EU were railroading issues through at a time when many ministers were away, leading to poor decision-making.

But following a summer marked by speculation over a possible leadership challenge and jostling for position among senior ministers over Brexit, there was some respite for the Prime Minister with an apparent truce between two of the leading protagonists.

Chancellor Philip Hammond, who favours a “soft”, pro-business Brexit, and theBrexiteer International Development Secretary Liam Fox signed up to a joint statement at the weekend agreeing that there would have to be a transition period after Britain has left the EU.

They agreed that while the measure was necessary to ensure there was no “cliff-edge” break for businesses, it would be time-limited and that Britain would leave the EU single market and the customs union when it left the bloc.

Senior Conservative MP Bernard Jenkin welcomed unity in the Cabinet and questioned why the EU would not treat the UK the same as other countries who have no free trade deal with the bloc but have agreements over aviation services, customs facilitation and product recognition.

Mr Jenkin, chairman of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Why wouldn’t they afford us the same kind of reasonable arrangements unless they want to punish us?

“And if they want to punish us, should we be intimidated by their determination to punish us?

“Are they such a dysfunctional and destructive organisation that they would punish themselves as well as us by imposing such a ridiculous scenario – and of course they won’t.”

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