17:37 GMT01 March 2021
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    The Brexit deal may not be completed by Tuesday, as the UK's PM has decided not to proceed with the emergency meeting on Monday following disagreements in her cabinet. Boris Johnson claims May's deal to keep the country in the EU customs union was what he called a ‘total surrender’ after his brother resigned from the post of transport minister.

    Radio Sputnik discussed the disagreements in Theresa May's cabinet with Wyn Grant, professor of international politics at Warwick University.

    Sputnik: Why would Theresa May decide not to proceed with the emergency meeting on Monday?

    Prof. Wyn Grant: Well, I think there are two dimensions to this: one is that really, there is no time agreement with the European Union. The other, of course, is that the Cabinet is clearly quite divided on this issue. It's become evident that a number of Cabinet members have been unhappy since the summer about the compromise proposal that was agreed to then, the so-called Chequers proposal. So she is facing difficulties on a number of fronts and also, of course, in Parliament itself.

    Sputnik: So, obviously there are two sides to this; let's focus on the internal strife. How strong are the disagreements within May's Cabinet?

    Prof. Wyn Grant: I think the disagreements are quite strong because there is unhappiness on both sides. There is unhappiness from those people who were formerly remainers, in as much as those categories mean anything anymore.

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    And there is also unhappiness among those people who were advocating that Britain should leave the European Union. So both sides of the argument really are dissatisfied with the proposal that appears to be on the table.

    Sputnik: And yet time is running out, I mean, this sounds like a deadlock in negotiations.

    Prof. Wyn Grant: It is a deadlock at the moment, I mean, these deadlocks can suddenly be broken but time is certainly running out and I think you know, some of the contingency plans which are being put in place, are in fact going to be quite difficult to execute. For example, there's talk of developing alternative port facilities at Ramsgate and Dover, but this would involve dredging the approach to the Port of Ramsgate and I am not sure that can be done in the time that's now left.

    Sputnik: Any more details you could share regarding these contingency plans?

    Prof. Wyn Grant: Well, of course, one of the problems is that they are not very developed at all. I mean obviously the government has not been prepared and hasn't been preparing for a hard exit in which there is no agreement with the European Union; obviously, there are plans to park lorries on motorways and things like that.

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    In connection with Ramsgate there are plans to create additional lorry parking at Sheerness on the Island of Sheppey, but these plans are not well developed, and there is no doubt that if the UK left in March without a deal, there will be all sorts of problems in terms of food supply, and supply of medicines and so on. Even if the government does in fact charter ships, as it has said it might contemplate doing.

    Sputnik: You have just said that a deadlock could easily be suddenly unlocked. What could be the trigger?

    Prof. Wyn Grant: Well, I think it's ultimately in the interest of both the United Kingdom and the European Union to have an agreement because the European Union has a substantial trade surplus with the United Kingdom and they would like to go on exporting various products to the UK. So there is an underlying interest in getting the agreement. The problem is there are a number of obstacles. It's not just the question of the Irish border now; there are now disputes about other issues as well.

    One is the whole question of fishing rights, which is an extremely sensitive subject that concerns the backbenchers, particularly those from Scotland. And there are also disputes about state aid and about environmental standards.

    Sputnik: I find it a bit odd how for weeks now we've been discussing this and it was always about the difficulty of the Irish border issue, and now apparently there is so much more.

    Prof. Wyn Grant: Yeah, these are the issues that have been introduced, I mean this is the whole question of whether boats from other countries in the European Union should have access to UK fishing areas in the transition period and that is a very sensitive issue politically, particularly for those conservatives who won seats in Scotland in the last election, where their community is very dependent on fishing.

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    I mean the EU is also saying that UK should continue to apply state aid rules, which is again quite a sensitive subject, cause it would stop the UK from competing effectively with the EU countries and then there also have been issues raised about environmental standards although I think those, in fact, could be resolved.

    Sputnik: Former Brexit minister Steve Baker stated that Brexiteer Tories would not support Theresa May's Brexit deal. Why is that, and to what extent could this impact her position within her party?

    Prof. Wyn Grant: Well, it obviously could impact her position within her party but I think the difficulty for the Brexiteers has always been that if they raise a challenge to her, she could well survive a vote confidence. And you know, if 48 MPs say they want to have a leadership challenge then there is a vote of confidence, she could, in fact, win that vote of confidence, but it's not clear that there is an accepted alternative candidate to be Prime Minister.

    Well, there clearly isn't, because different factions of the party would support different people but there is no clear front-runner who could come in and succeed and start to sort out all these problems.

    Sputnik: We've just spoken about the two-pronged hurdle that there is: the strife within the Cabinet and the difficulties there, as well as the difficulties in negotiations with the EU. Which is the more important to tackle or should it be an immediate sort of two-pronged approach in solving all of this?

    Prof. Wyn Grant: Well, in some ways it has to be a two-pronged approach but I think in principle it should be possible to get an agreement with the EU. I mean it would probably be a fudged agreement, but because it would just be a withdrawal agreement, and then there would have to be further negotiations during the transition period on the future relationship. But without a withdrawal agreement, there is no transition period.

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    So that could be sought, but I think then the problem is that the Cabinet is divided and even more so, the House of Commons is divided, and there is a question of whether in fact any deal could get through the House of Commons. I mean the Democratic Unionists, for example, are taking a very tough line on this particular question and we are looking at this, they are not going to give way and to support any deal, any feasible deal that might be reached.

    Sputnik: We traditionally ask everyone how likely is a no-deal Brexit to happen but, of course, most are saying that a bad deal, any bad deal would be better than a no-deal Brexit.

    Prof. Wyn Grant: Well, I think yes because if you have a deal, then you can carry on with the negotiations. I mean it would just be a withdrawal agreement and then you'd have to have, you know, a further period in negotiations during the transition period in which you'd try to sort out the future relationship. Both negotiations will be difficult, but at least there will be, for the time being, the existing trading relationship will continue.

    The views expressed in this article are solely those of Wyn Grant and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Sputnik.

    The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.


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