Brakes slammed on Brexit backstop proposal

David Davis Image copyright Reuters
Image caption No 10 is trying to find a way of satisfying David Davis

It is fair to say it has been a confusing day, but what do we actually know tonight?

No 10 have prepared a proposal for a "Temporary Customs Arrangement", where the UK would retain close ties to the EU for an indeterminate period after the end of the transition period - past 2020 - in case none of their hoped for customs fixes come to pass.

They believed they had the support of senior ministers to publish it on Thursday, even without explicit and detailed discussions of the written paper itself in the inner Brexit cabinet, let alone the full gathering of senior ministers.

It became clear, however, and rather surprisingly to the outside observer, that the man in government who is meant to be in charge of the Brexit process was not completely on-board.

So the brakes have been slammed on publishing the paper until meetings and discussions between senior ministers tomorrow.

'Cracking on with Brexit?'

No 10 is trying to find a way of satisfying Brexit Secretary David Davis, who is not just concerned about the lack of time limit in this particular proposal, but also Downing Street's refusal so far to publish his hoped for Brexit blueprint before the end of this month, and a lack of decision about the government's preferred long term option on customs.

Again, therefore, No 10 has had to row back because it either didn't fully understand the level of unhappiness inside cabinet, or because they were aware of it but believed they could push on regardless - because the imperative of cracking on with the Brexit process is more important than political sensitivities at home.

Brexiteers on the Tory benches would have been likely to erupt at the current proposal with no end date. So, if David Davis' desires can be as one source suggested "managed" tomorrow, his fury may have avoided a wider revolt.

But Theresa May's internal critics believe this is yet another product of her reluctance to face down those in her party who want to impose their vision on her achingly slow journey to compromise.

'Tying itself in knots'

Again, the government stumbles when trying to resolve its own internal contradictions, before being able to confront the EU 27.

This latest saga may yet be solved in the next 24 hours. But it is not impossible to imagine that it may not, with a potential, if perhaps not yet likely, resignation of David Davis.

And again, the irony is that the UK is tying itself in knots over a position that the EU is likely to reject.

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