Theresa May to face crunch talks with Donald Tusk ahead of speech

Theresa May to face crunch talks with Donald Tusk ahead of speech

Theresa May is to give a Brexit speech tomorrow (March 2)

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Theresa May is facing a frenetic 48 hours of Brexit diplomacy as she tries to secure Cabinet unit ahead of crunch talks with European Council president Donald Tusk and a keynote address on the UK's future relationship with the EU.

The Prime Minister gathered her top ministerial team today (March 1) to discuss the contents of a major speech she will give tomorrow to detail the "end state" withdrawal deal Britain wants to hammer out with Brussels.

The Cabinet session will be followed by a Downing Street meeting with Tusk after tensions with the EU flared up again.

The face-to-face talks come in the wake of May's firm rejection of parts of a draft legal text from the European Commission regarding the post-Brexit status of Northern Ireland, which she said would "threaten the constitutional integrity of the UK" by creating a border down the Irish Sea.

With a three week countdown to a key EU summit where the remaining 27 members will decide their Brexit stance, the Prime Minister faced a battle on two fronts as pro-Europe Tories launched stinging criticisms of her strategy.

Tory infighting broke to the fore again as former prime minister Sir John Major's call for MPs to have a free vote on the final Brexit deal, with the option of putting it to the public in a second referendum, drew a strong attack from ex-party leader Lord Michael Howard.

Howard, who led the Tories from 2003 to 2005, compared the remarks to when Major faced Tory Eurosceptic rebellions in the 1990s, telling the BBC: "He certainly wasn't very keen on free votes at that time. No question about that."

He added that the Government's position of "ambitious managed divergence" with the EU, which was agreed at a special meeting of the Brexit "war cabinet" sub-committee last week, was the best way forward.

The draft EU text put into legal terms the deal reached by the Prime Minister and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker last December.

On the key issue of Northern Ireland, it spells out how the principle of "regulatory alignment" would be implemented if the UK fails to find technological or diplomatic solutions to keep the border with the Irish Republic open.

If such solutions are not found, the draft text states, "the territory of Northern Ireland, excluding the territorial waters of the United Kingdom...shall be considered to be part of the customs territory of the Union."