Theresa May has bowed to pressure to spell out her Brexit strategy more clearly by promising to publish it in a detailed Government dossier.
Downing Street has announced that the Prime Minister confirmed to her Cabinet that the Government is producing a white paper on its proposed future relationship with the EU.
But the announcement came with the PM’s feuding ministers still no nearer to reaching an agreement on the crucial issue of customs policy after the UK leaves the European Union.
According to No 10, David Davis told the Cabinet at its weekly meeting that the white paper would be the Government’s most significant publication on the EU since the referendum two years ago.
“It will communicate our ambition for the UK’s future relationship with the EU, in the context of our vision for the UK’s future role in the world,” said the Brexit secretary.
“It is an opportunity to set out clearly to both a domestic and an EU audience the reasoning behind our approach, including where we think it is clearly in the EU’s interests as well as our own.’
Downing Street claims the document will “include detailed, ambitious and precise explanations of our positions…it should set out what will change and what will feel different outside the EU”.
The white paper was announced just hours after rock legend Sir Mick Jagger added his voice to calls for the Prime Minister to spell out her Brexit strategy and end the customs confusion.
“Everyone would like to see a fast resolution, a united front and some leadership that’s united rather than split,” the Rolling Stones frontman said in a radio interview.
The Government’s aim is to publish the white paper in time for the next EU summit of European leaders in six weeks’ time. It will cover security, financial services, aviation and fisheries.
But if the Cabinet fails to reach a deal on customs and break the deadlock between the Brexiteers and Remainers by then, critics will claim the white paper is a pointless exercise.
The so-called Brexit “war Cabinet” of 11 senior ministers met for more than 90 minutes in its latest attempt to come to an agreement on a “customs partnership or “maximum facilitation”.
Under a customs partnership, favoured by Remainers and the PM but bitterly opposed by Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who called it “crazy” last week, the UK would collect tariffs for Brussels.
Maximum facilitation, known in Whitehall jargon as “max fac”, relies on new technology and is thought to be a potential compromise that could win support from Conservative MPs.
The EU’s Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier also mocked Mrs May over her failure to agree a post-Brexit customs model, claiming it was “unnecessary to fight” over two options which Brussels will reject anyway since neither was realistic.
At the latest Cabinet sub-committee meeting, ministers heard presentations from Mr Davis and Cabinet Office minister David Lidington on work done by two ministerial working groups set up last week.
Reacting to the white paper announcement, Labour Brexit spokesman Paul Blomfield said: “It is deeply disturbing that, after yet another meeting, the Cabinet still cannot agree on the most fundamental Brexit issues.
“Ministers have finally agreed to publish a White Paper on the Government’s negotiating position, but they still don’t know what it will say.
“Labour called for a white paper before Article 50 was triggered.
“However, Ministers have wasted months arguing amongst themselves rather than negotiating in the national interest.
“Today’s failure highlights the deep division at the heart of Government on the most basic of issues.
“Whether those divisions can be resolved in the next month remains to be seen.
“If the Cabinet can’t take the decisions, Parliament will.”
In another move, Labour is also attempting to force a binding vote in the House of Commons requiring the Government to publish Cabinet papers on the two customs options being considered by ministers.
Using the “humble address” procedure it has used successfully previously, Labour will call on the Government to release to Parliament all papers prepared for the Brexit sub-committee, including any economic analysis.
Speaking ahead of the debate Keir Starmer, Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary, said: “The Government’s Brexit strategy is in complete and utter deadlock.
“Nearly two years on from the referendum, ministers have still yet to agree what our future customs and trading relationship with Europe will look like after Brexit.
“Instead, the Prime Minister has wasted months pursing her two fatally flawed customs options and presiding over a Government that is too busy arguing with itself to negotiate for Britain.
“There is a majority in Parliament, business and the trade union movement that supports Labour’s call for a comprehensive customs union with the EU after Brexit.
“If Theresa May is too weak to take that decision, then she should give Parliament the information to let it decide.”