British Prime Minister Theresa May was presiding over negotiations within the British cabinet that is divided over the vision of Brexit on Monday and Tuesday.
While the Prime Minister offered assurances that the government is on its way to deliver “a smooth and orderly Brexit,” the cleavage within the cabinet is clear. The BBC reports on a divide between advocates of normative alignment to the EU – a model that resembles Norway – and hard Brexiteers that want a bespoke Canada plus services deal.
A CETA plus deal is considered utopian, as that would demand a level of liberalization of services that goes beyond what is already achieved within the Single Market. Moreover, it would have a knock-on effect in relations between Brussels and the rest of the world, which EU member states are not likely to concede for the sake of London.
However, the foreign secretary Boris Johnson and the environment secretary, Michael Gove, want the UK ready to walk away from a transition period and any deal at all if that means giving up the possibility of significant normative divergence. This camp is also making clear that the UK should not accept a transitional period that entails the UK being a rule-taker of EU norms.
The Norwegian model is advocated by Chancellor Philip Hammond and resonates with the demands of several backbenchers.
Despite her weakness since her failed electoral campaign in June, Theresa May has been seen as the inevitable leader able to bridge the gap between the advocates of “soft” and “hard” Brexit. She is said to advocate a transition period but goes along with the vision of a CEFTA plus deal.
However, moving to the second phase of negotiations presents a challenge, not only because the British government will need to legislate on the assurances offered by the British government on phase one, but also because London must come up with a unified vision for Brexit.
On Monday, the Times lead article was on May staying on in the leadership of the party – and the country – as hardliners fear that a succession contest within the Tory party would threaten to undermine or even cancel Brexit. The hope is that May can stay on until 2021, that is, two years after the UK leaves the EU and towards the end of the anticipated transition period. However, the assumption that Theresa May can maintain a balance between two groups with fundamentally opposed objectives is risky.