Theresa May challenged the EU to “get serious” about her plan for Britains post-Brexit relationship with the bloc amid signs of dissent from Brexiteers in her own party.
The U.K. prime minister won the backing of her divided Cabinet Friday for a plan that would create a new “U.K.-EU free trade area” and closely intertwined customs relationship with Brussels.
“Our message now is to the other side, to Europe, that its time to get serious and sit down and talk about it,” she said in an interview with the Sunday Times. “Its now for Europe to be prepared to sit down and move the pace of negotiations on and talk about it seriously and address what weve put forward.”
Asked about Brexiteer disquiet on her backbenches because the deal would keep the U.K. closely aligned with Brussels rules in many areas, and the potential for a leadership challenge, she said: “The only challenge that needs to be made now is to the European Union to get serious about this.”
It emerged that during Fridays all-day Cabinet meeting, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson objected to the deal, calling it “a big turd,” according to the Sunday Times. He said that anyone defending it would be “polishing a turd.” Brexit Secretary David Davis and Liam Fox, state secretary for international trade, among others, also voiced disappointment, saying the proposal would make it hard to negotiate future trade deals.
All ministers though, opted to retain their jobs and backed the deal.
Environment Secretary Michel Gove, who was an architect of the Leave campaign, was an early convert at the Cabinet meeting to supporting the prime minister. He told the BBCs Andrew Marr program Sunday that although he hadnt got everything he wanted, he is a “realist.”
“You shouldnt make the perfect the enemy of the good,” he said, “In all of the important areas where an independent country chooses to exercise sovereignty, Britain will be able to do so.”
Speaking to the same program, Labours Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer called it a “fudge,” adding “Its unworkable. Its a bureaucratic nightmare.”
The strongest criticism though came from MPs in the Brexiteer European Research Group, who in a paper circulated on Saturday night, said the proposal will lead to a “worst-of-all-worlds Black Hole Brexit where the U.K. is stuck permanently as a vassal state in the EUs legal and regulatory tarpit.”
Andrew Bridgen, a Tory backbench Brexiteer said: “Its deeply disappointing that Brexiteer colleagues in Cabinet have been ground down and cowed by the Brexit negotiations. Its rather like a football team which is 10-0 down praying for the final whistle just to end their agony and humiliation.”
And Andrea Jenkyns, who resigned from the government last month to fight for a stronger Brexit, said she would be prepared to vote down the deal in parliament: “I, personally, am prepared to vote against it and if the detail is as bad as were hearing, then Im also prepared to put a letter in to the [1922 committee recommending a leadership challenge]. Im getting emails entitled Brexit betrayal: thats not a good situation.”
In a separate interview with the BBC Saturday, May did not rule out giving preferential treatment to EU citizens coming to the U.K. in the context of reciprocal arrangements for Britons wishing to work and live on the Continent. “What works for the U.K., whats right for the United Kingdom? We will put our national interest [first],” she said.
Likening her Cabinet to Englands football team, which on Saturday scored a victory against Sweden and gained a place in the semi-finals of the World Cup, May said: “Theyre a team that comes together, that prepares well, that gets on with the job and certainly thats what were doing. I think we should take a leaf out of [Englands manager] Gareth Southgates book and say lets just take it one game at a time.”