Brexit talks could become a ‘rout’, warns former minister

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EU withdrawal negotiations risk becoming a “rout” unless Theresa May’s Cabinet are willing to compromise at next week’s Chequers summit, a former Brexit minister has warned.

Conservative peer Lord Bridges warned that if ministers were not ready to be honest about the position the UK finds itself in, “the game will be up”.

His comments, in an article for the Evening Standard, come a week ahead of next Friday’s summit at the Prime Minister’s country residence, where Mrs May hopes to secure Cabinet backing for her vision for future relations with the EU.

Meanwhile, a poll for the same paper found public confidence in Mrs May’s ability to get a good deal from Brussels has fallen to a new low.

Just 30% of voters questioned by Ipsos Mori said they were “confident” of the PM securing a good deal – down four points since last month – compared to 67% who said they were not confident (up four).

Lord Bridges, who served as a minister in David Davis’s Department for Exiting the EU, said the Cabinet was currently divided between those who see sovereignty as the most important issue and those regarding access to EU markets as a bigger priority.

Business is “in the dark” about how the Government would handle a no-deal Brexit and Parliament has taken the view that it is not an option, he said.

As a result, the EU believes the UK will lose much of its leverage in talks when it signs the withdrawal agreement due to be finalised in October.

“If nothing changes, there’s a danger the UK will have to agree to a withdrawal treaty full of meaningless waffle on our future relationship with the EU,” warned Lord Bridges.

“With so little leverage in the next phase, the negotiations would become a rout. Worse, uncertainty will drag on, damaging our economy.”

In a direct message to feuding Cabinet ministers, Lord Bridges wrote: “You must compromise — among yourselves, then with Europe.

“Some of you feel passionately that restoring Parliamentary sovereignty is more important than keeping trade flowing. Others feel passionately the other way. But if you stay in your trenches, lobbing grenades at each other, the EU will be the winner.”

Prime Minister Theresa May discussed the UK’s future relations with the EU at the European Council summit in Brussels (David Hughes/PA)

The Tory peer set out his own proposals, including:

– Make “no deal” a realistic option by making preparations for action on borders, legal contracts and aviation;

– Aim to remain close to the EU on goods and agriculture, but gain independence on services;

– Be ready to accept the EU’s position that financial services must submit to “equivalence” tests to gain access to European markets;

– Offer free movement for EU citizens for short periods of travel and study, but impose new visa requirements to work and settle.

Ipsos MORI interviewed 1,026 adults across Great Britain between June 22 and 27.

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