British Prime Minister Theresa May asked her ministers to examine the impact of a number of Brexit scenarios and come up with options for Britain’s future relations with the EU after triggering Article 50.
Findings are likely to be reported on Wednesday to the Brexit department run by David Davis, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union. The findings, however, are likely to be kept internal and not released to the public.
Possible scenarios that may have been assessed are full membership of the European Economic Area (EEA), limited restrictions on immigration, European citizens needing visas just to go on vacation in the UK and trade tariffs imposed under WTO rules.
The scenario planning is already highlighting divisions in the government. According to one Whitehall source, a few civil servants in the Foreign Office want “as much Europe as possible” while others in the Home Office are hesitant to consider access to the single market or full EEA membership as options because they want to crackdown on immigration.
According to the Telegraph newspaper, the Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond wants access to the single market to be kept “on a sector-to-sector basis”, allowing the UK maintain positive relation with its large financial sector.
The Treasury declined to comment on whether that was Hammond’s stance.
However, if it is his stance, that would oppose Brexit minister Davis and Trade Minister Liam Fox who firmly believe that Britain can only restrict immigration by leaving the single market entirely.
May gathered her cabinet team on Wednesday morning at Chequers to discuss Britain’s divorce from the bloc. According to the statement released by Number 10, the Prime Minister opened the cabinet meeting by ruling out a second EU referendum, asserting that there would be “no attempts to sort of stay in the EU by the back door”.
She said: “We must continue to be very clear that ‘Brexit means Brexit’, that we’re going to make a success of it. That means there’s no second referendum; no attempts to sort of stay in the EU by the back door; that we’re actually going to deliver on this.”
May also told her colleagues that Brexit could “play a positive role” that both the UK and rest of the world could benefit from.
“Can I just remind everybody that this really is a very significant moment for the country, as we look ahead to the next steps that we need to take. We have the opportunity to forge a new positive role for the UK in the world; to make sure that we are that government and country that works for everyone – that everyone can share in the country’s prosperity.”
In response to pressure from the EU to begin formal Brexit negotiations and end uncertainty that has harmed investment, May told her cabinet: “We will have an update on Brexit; we’ll
be looking at the next steps that we need to take, and we’ll also be looking at the opportunities that are now open to us as we forge a new role for the UK in the world.”
Prior to the cabinet meeting, May spoke to the Finnish Prime Minister Juha Sipilä and the Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg on the phone. According to a spokesperson for Number 10, May explained that Article 50 will not be triggered until next year. She also pledged that despite the UK divorcing the bloc, the UK still wants to maintain positive relations with the EU.
“In the discussions the prime minister said that though the UK is leaving the EU we are not turning our back on Europe and want to maintain a good relationship with the EU as well as individual European countries,” the spokesperson said.
They added: “The prime minister also said that, while the UK remains a member of the EU, we will play a full role, live up to our obligations and remain a strong supporter of free trade.”