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March 18, 2019

UK PM gathers ministers as Davis resignation rumours swirl

UK PM gathers ministers as Davis resignation rumours swirl
'British Prime Minister Theresa May is gathering her ministers on Thursday' - By: AFP Ben STANSALL

British Prime Minister Theresa May gathers her ministers Thursday amid swirling rumours that Brexit secretary David Davis could quit over her plans to avoid a hard Irish border.

Davis, the public face of the Brexit negotiations, is said to be furious about a fall-back position in which Britain would stay aligned to the EU's customs union after leaving the bloc.

The proposals, which would kick in only if no other solution were found to avoid customs checks between Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland, are due to be published this week.

But they have sparked a major row between May and the eurosceptics in her cabinet, led by Davis but also including Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.

They are said to be concerned about the lack of an end date, and are pushing for a provision stating that Britain can withdraw unilaterally from its alignment with the EU -- something Brussels is unlikely to accept.

Davis is scheduled to make a statement to parliament at some point on Thursday, while the cabinet sub-committee charged with taking key decisions on Brexit is meeting at lunchtime.

Downing Street sources initially said the committee was not going to talk about the so-called backstop, implying it was already agreed in principle.

However, Davis told reporters on Wednesday that it would, saying: "It would be improper of me to pre-empt the negotiation there, but I suspect it will be fairly decisive tomorrow."

Asked if he could stay in his job if the proposals did not have his explicit approval, he said: "That's a question I think for the prime minister to be honest."

Sarah O'Grady, a newspaper journalist and the wife of Davis's chief of staff, tweeted early Thursday that it was a "crucial day", saying: "Backstop not backed up by DD. Crunch time."

The government insists that it has no intention of using the backstop, and will instead find a way to avoid border checks in Ireland through an overarching trade deal with the EU.

But there are concerns that if it came into effect, it would keep Britain tied to EU rules for years to come.

The latest round of Brexit negotiations wrap on Friday, but hopes of a breakthrough at the next EU summit in Brussels at the end of this month are fading.

Both sides say they want to agree a deal by October, to allow time for it to be ratified before Brexit in March 29, 2019.

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