May faces tricky votes in the House of Commons this week that Euroskeptics in her Conservative Party see as a test of opposition to her Brexit policy. Boris Johnson, the former foreign minister, and David Davis, the former Brexit secretary, resigned over it, fueling speculation of a possible leadership challenge. “This jeopardises the opportunities offered by Brexit,” Davis wrote in the Financial Times on Sunday. “The chance to become acredible trading partner will be compromised.”
May’s Brexit blueprint calls for a UK-EU “free trade area” with interlinked customs regimes, but critics argue that it would leave Britain signed up to rules on trade it would no longer have any ability to influence and prevent it from signing trade deals with non-EU countries.
US President Donald Trump said in an interview in the Sun newspaper last week that too much regulatory alignment with the EU would “kill” a trans-Atlantic free-trade deal. He also criticised May for the way she handled negotiations with the EU and said the deal she’s pursuing “is not what the people voted on.”
At a joint press conference on Friday, Trump softened his criticism of May’s leadership — though he didn’t back off from his central warning on trade. “The only thing I ask of Theresa is that we make sure we can trade, that we don’t have any restrictions, because we want to trade with the UK and the UK wants to trade with us,” he said. He also revealed that May had rejected his earlier “suggestion” for how to deal with the EU because it was too “brutal,” without saying what it was.
“We’re going to be able to cut tariffs, we’re going to be able to change quotas, we’re going to be able to have freedom on services, we’re going to be able to have bilateral investment deals,” May said on the BBC. “This is a good deal for the UK.”
May will get a sense of where she stands on Monday when the Taxation (Cross-Border Trade) returns to the House of Commons. Jacob Rees-Mogg, chairman of the pro-Brexit European Research Group, has offered amendments. Seven Conservatives need to rebel for it to be defeated — though it depends on how lawmakers from parties vote.
It’s unlikely that opposition Labour Party lawmakers seeking a soft Brexit will help May get her plans through. Peter Mandelson, Britain’s former trade commissioner in Brussels and a Labour peer in the House of Lords, said in the Observer that May’s plans would deliver “the polar opposite of taking back control.”
“Britain, in effect, would be entrapped and the more you think through the implications the more the whole thing looks less like a soft Brexit than a national humiliation,” he wrote.