The prime minister will travel to meet European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on Wednesday evening in an effort to make progress on an outline of the future trade deal the two sides want to strike.
But euroskeptics in her Tory party want the premier to rip up key parts of the deal and demand more concessions from the EU before the plan is signed off. That’s gone down badly with EU leaders such as Germany’s Angela Merkel, amid concern from diplomats that Sunday’s summit will need to be cancelled if May pushes for more changes.
Time for delays is running out. Britain’s withdrawal from the EU is now just over four months away. May has staggering on, wounded at home by a succession of damaging resignations from her cabinet from ministers who can’t stomach her deal.
At the same time, rank-and-file Tories are trying to drum up enough support for a formal attempt to oust her as their leader. So far, they’ve not succeeded.
Even so, with no automatic majority in Parliament, May is facing a colossal task to persuade enough members of the House of Commons to support her deal in a crunch vote expected in December. If she loses that vote, the U.K. will be on track to crash out of the EU with no deal.
On Wednesday, May’s conversation with Juncker will focus on the so-called future partnership, the trade and security relationship that will replace EU membership as the basis for trade between the U.K. and the remaining 27 countries in the bloc. The details of that accord will be negotiated during a 21-month transition period starting after Brexit on March 29.
Labour, SNP Huddle
But the terms of the separate exit treaty are already contentious. At a cabinet meeting in London on Tuesday, May’s ministers discussed alternative plans for the most difficult issue in the talks: the backstop guarantee for avoiding a customs border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Some pro-Brexit ministers are said to be contemplating quitting if May doesn’t renegotiate the terms of the divorce to ensure that the U.K. has the unilateral power to get out of any backstop arrangement for Ireland, if it wants to.
On Tuesday night, Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, which props up May’s minority Conservative government, flexed its muscle in a warning to the premier. For the second time in two days, the DUP refused to vote with the government in protest over May’s Brexit deal for Ireland. Without the DUP’s support, the government was forced to accept Labour amendments to its budget law.
To make matters worse for May, the leaders of the Scottish National Party and the main opposition Labour party -- Nicola Sturgeon and Jeremy Corbyn -- met up to plot their assault on May’s Brexit deal on Tuesday and were reported to have had a constructive discussion.
In Brussels, ambassadors from the other 27 EU countries received an update on the state of the talks. There are still outstanding issues relating to how much longer the transition period can be extended for, as well as the future of Gibraltar and fishing rights.