LONDON (Reuters) – After a summer of political earthquakes followed by a few weeks of holiday calm, Prime Minister Theresa May will meet members of her government on Wednesday to discuss how Britain is to leave the European Union.
It will be the first time that May, appointed in July after David Cameron resigned following Britain’s vote to quit the EU, has met her ministers since she asked them to use the break to come up with options for the country’s future relationship with the bloc after a divorce.
For many in the EU, it is not before time. Despite giving May breathing space to devise a negotiating stance before triggering the exit procedure, they are keen for Britain to begin the talks and end uncertainty that has hurt investment.
“Before the summer the PM charged all cabinet ministers with identifying the opportunities in their respective areas of responsibility,” a government spokeswoman said.
“On Wednesday … the new team will report back, and discuss the next steps in the negotiations,” she said of the meeting at May’s official residence at Chequers.
“Once the PM has made a decision she will expect the cabinet to deliver on it.”
May has said she will not trigger Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon treaty to start the exit procedure until next year so that she can have time to make sure she has the best chance of winning best deal for Britain, her spokesman said.
The former interior minister, described as “utterly intractable” by a Cameron ally, will ask parliament for its views, but does not legally require its approval.
Her aides are clear that her decision will overcome any divergence of views in her cabinet, which like the wider ruling Conservative Party, is divided over the degree of Brexit – whether Britain should leave the EU’s single market to ensure control over migration or find some compromise.
May has stacked her three ministries for Brexit, trade and foreign affairs with some of the most active campaigners for Britain to leave the EU.
But she has balanced them by appointing to vital positions lawmakers who campaigned for Britain to remain in the bloc, such as Philip Hammond at the finance ministry, or Treasury.
The Telegraph newspaper reported that the two sides have disagreed over Hammond’s view that access to the single market could be maintained “on a sector-by-sector basis”, with Britain retaining a favourable status for its big financial sector.
Asked whether that was Hammond’s stance, the Treasury declined to comment.
If it was, that would go against so-called Brexit minister David Davis, who heads the new Department for Exiting the European Union, and trade minister Liam Fox. Citing senior government sources, the Telegraph said both believe Britain can only curb migration if the country leaves the single market.
On Tuesday, French President Francois Hollande seemed to back up that point, underlining that Britain could not opt in to certain parts of the single market without upholding the EU’s four freedoms, including freedom of movement.
“This choice means that Britain, once it leaves, cannot take part in European decisions,” he told an annual gathering of French ambassadors in Paris.
“It will not be able to access the single market unless its accepts the four freedoms, all its regulation and budgetary solidarity.”