Twenty months on from Britain’s historic vote to leave the European Union, the many and varied challenges thrown up by Brexit continue to emerge.
With Theresa May and her senior ministers expected to continue their discussions today after meeting yesterday to start charting a course through transition and future trading arrangements, there is much work to be done as the clock ticks towards departure in March next year.
The Prime Minister has the unenviable task of uniting a fractious Cabinet and party around a shared plan, while at the same time persuading Brussels that it is in the EU’s best interests to get a deal that works for both sides.
Mrs May was quite right in Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday to downplay the importance of “noises off” after the EU set out plans that would allow it to sanction the UK during transition. As she accurately pointed out, what matters is what is agreed around the negotiation table, not the rhetoric that precedes talks.
But that does not dismiss the importance of dealing with the many outstanding questions related to the Brexit process. In Parliament yesterday, Mrs May was clear Britain will be leaving the customs union to strike its own trade deals, but vague when Leeds Central MP Hilary Benn asked for an explanation on how such an arrangement would allow existing Irish border arrangements to remain.
She also sidestepped calls to guarantee that access to the NHS for American companies will be “excluded” from future trade talks; instead replying that the UK would “go into those negotiations to get the best possible deal for the United Kingdom”.
The precise nature of exactly what “the best possible deal” involves is likely to remain a subject of fierce debate – but what is needed now from the Cabinet is establishing clear objectives and a united front.