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14th-May-2018

May says ‘trust me’ on Brexit, as tensions in cabinet simmer

By AFP, London

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May called for unity over Brexit, following a week in which Cabinet tensions spilled over and her plan for Britain's trading relationship with the European Union was labeled "crazy" by a key party member.
"You can trust me to deliver," May wrote in the Sunday Times newspaper. "The path I am setting out is the path to deliver the Brexit people voted for," she said, adding, "I will not let you down."
Less than a year until the U.K. leaves the EU, May's government still can't agree what to seek in the exit negotiations. The resignation of a key ally has left May outnumbered in her inner Cabinet over her proposal for a close customs relationship with the bloc, while the Sunday Telegraph reported that overall, at least 12 ministers-of 28 who sit in Cabinet alongside May-are set to oppose her plan.
May last week ordered her ministers to take responsibility for resolving the Brexit customs dilemma themselves, splitting her inner "war cabinet" into two working groups to iron out their differences. Both groups include ministers from the pro- and anti-Brexit factions, but two of the most hardline on each side-Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, responsible for the "crazy" barb, and Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond-aren't included.
Meanwhile, May has put off sending a key piece of Brexit legislation to the House of Commons after peers repeatedly defeated the government as the bill passed through the upper House of Lords.
May said she had proposed different options for a new customs arrangement with the EU and the government would continue to work on them during the negotiations.
She said her mission in the talks was to build a new, close trading relationship with the EU, put Britain in full control over its immigration policy and taxpayer spending and build closer ties with the world's emerging economies.
She said any deal must protect the United Kingdom's constitutional and economic integrity and honour the Northern Irish peace accords.
"This means there can be no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, or between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK," May wrote.
"Any agreements must create as little friction as possible for trade," she said, adding: "We must not constrain our ability to negotiate trade agreements with other countries around the world by being bound into a customs union."
Last year, London put forward two options to ease cross-border trade with the EU but, with Brexit looming, has still yet to make a final decision on which to pursue.
May's preferred option, the customs partnership, was reportedly rejected at a meeting of her senior ministers last week, while Brussels has also condemned it as "magical thinking".
The model would involve Britain collecting EU tariffs on goods heading into the bloc but charging its own on UK-destined products.
A second option, "maximum facilitation", would involve using technology to minimise customs checks, but the EU has also cast doubt on its viability.
A decision is not expected for at least another week, but the clock is ticking ahead of a crucial EU summit in June.
The Sunday Times said May's article was "an appeal for unity as she enters another perilous phase of her premiership".
The main opposition Labour Party called Sunday for parliament to be given the chance to vote on a customs union.