Cabinet approves UK Brexit offer

The full Cabinet on Tuesday approved the UK’s negotiating position for the first phase of Brexit negotiations - which the Prime Minister hopes will lead to agreement from the rest of the EU in just over a fortnight for talks to move on to trade and transition.

The three elements to the UK’s offer are:

  • A pledge to keep open the border with the Republic of Ireland

  • A formula for the so-called divorce bill that would see the UK paying more than £40bn and less than £60bn in divorce payments

  • A system for guaranteeing the rights of three million EU migrants resident in the UK that would allow Britain’s Supreme Court to refer issues “up” to the European Court of Justice, when it felt unqualified to adjudicate

The most contentious of the Prime Minister's negotiating positions with her own Brexit-supporting MPs are the offers on the divorce bill and the continuing role of the ECJ as ultimate guarantor of EU migrants' rights.

She will be accused by the more ardent Brexit supporters of betrayal and crossing her own red lines.

However she will feel that on the ECJ her position shows that UK law generally takes precedence, because only the Supreme Court could decide to involve the ECJ, not the plaintiff.

The Irish border issue remains a real sticking point. Credit: PA

However it is on Ireland that the rest of the EU will be sceptical of whether she has moved enough, because they will question how she can guarantee an open border with the Republic - unless she also explicitly promises a degree of regulatory convergence between the UK and EU that would obviate the need for burdensome customs checks.

And that degree of convergence would be hated by Brexiteer ultras.

Ministers however believe that her officials have been given a nod in Brussels that broadly she is offering almost enough to move to the next phase of talks.

They noted that her lead Brexit official, Olly Robbins, attended the Cabinet meeting.

"He would only been there if all the important ground work in talks with Brussels had been done," said one.

PS I forgot to mention that ministers may well be right to be cautiously optimistic they are about to clear the first big Brexit hurdle, because Brussels officials were also the most optimistic I’ve known, when I contacted them today.