After a night of cabinet plotting, Theresa May faces a showdown at her country retreat over the UK’s position on Brexit.
Ministers will have their phones removed on arrival at Chequers in Buckinghamshire and talks will continue into the night, with the PM warning they have “a duty” to “agree the shape of our future relationship with the European Union”.
On Thursday night, leading Brexiteers held their own private meeting to mull over a 100-page document that proposes the government’s position.
The plan could see the UK remain closely aligned to rules set by Brussels on agriculture and food, potentially making it much harder to strike a post-Brexit trade deal with the US.
Although Downing Street insisted it was “categorically untrue” the plans would make a trade deal with the US impossible.
Boris Johnson, David Davis, Michael Gove, Esther McVey, Penny Mordaunt, Andrea Leadsom and Liam Fox met inside at the Foreign Office.
Dr Fox, the international trade secretary, then spent 50 minutes at Number 10 with the prime minister.
A Downing Street source said Dr Fox had been “for a chat” and dismissed speculation he might resign. But Sky News sources say he sought reassurances.
Brexit Secretary David Davis has reportedly written to the prime minister and set out his opposition to her so-called “third way” on customs.
Mr Davis has apparently told Mrs May her plan to try and bring her warring cabinet together is “unworkable”.
Speaking ahead of the crunch meeting, the prime minister said: “The cabinet meets at Chequers to agree the shape of our future relationship with the European Union.
“In doing so, we have a great opportunity – and a duty. To set an ambitious course to enhance our prosperity and security outside the European Union – and to build a country that genuinely works for everyone.”
She added: “We want a deal that allows us to deliver the benefits of Brexit – taking control of our borders, laws and money and by signing ambitious new trade deals with countries like the US, Australia and New Zealand.
“This is about agreeing an approach that delivers decisively on the verdict of the British people – an approach that is in the best interests of the UK and the EU, and crucially, one that commands the support of the public and parliament.”
Papers circulated to ministers ahead of the crunch meeting are reported to recommend that the UK should maintain a “common rulebook” with the EU for all goods, including agricultural and food products.
The document also reportedly says that “we would strike a different arrangement for services, where it is in our interests to have regulatory flexibility, recognising this will result in reduced market access”.
The Spectator quotes the papers as saying that these arrangements “would not allow the UK to accommodate a likely ask from the US in a future trade deal” as the UK would be unable to recognise the United States’ “array of standards”.
In response to media reports of the proposed “facilitated customs arrangement”, Tory MP Owen Paterson – who is a board member of Leave Means Leave – said it would be “a complete breach of Theresa May’s manifesto commitment”.
One person remains optimistic – Chief Whip Julian Smith told reporters in Downing Street that “the prime minister will have a great day”.