Monday 2 July 2018 2:34 pm

Brexit: Norway or bust for trade deal, Cabinet ministers told ahead of Chequers away day

Catherine Neilan is head of politics and investigations at City A.M.

Catherine Neilan is head of politics and investigations at City A.M.

The government must accept an off-the-shelf trade deal with the European Union, most likely the Norway-style EEA option, Theresa May's chief Brexit negotiator has warned.

Olly Robbins, who has been meeting with his EU counterparts regularly in place of Brexit secretary David Davis, has told Cabinet ministers there was no chance of striking a bespoke deal.

Ahead of their meeting at Chequers this Friday, he urged them to be realistic and said the EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier was under no pressure to soften his stance despite requests from May to intervene.

According to The Times, ministers were told to choose between a Norway-style deal in which Britain remains in the Single Market but has to accept EU rules, or a bog-standard free-trade agreement that would do little for the UK's service-based economy.

Read more: It's time to consider extending the Brexit transition period

“I came out of the meeting and thought we were even more screwed than we were before,” the source said. “I was surprised he admitted how bad it was. If I had to gauge where we are, I would say Downing Street is moving towards the Norwegian model.”

A European Commission source also told The Times were was "no pressure at all coming from national governments”.

Last week City A.M. revealed that the Chequers meeting was expected to result in "the softest of hard Brexits", continuing the ongoing sense that things are being fudged to keep everyone onside.

Transition is looking increasingly likely to be extended, after interventions over the weekend from both the business secretary Greg Clark and leader of the Commons Andrea Leadsom. City A.M. first reported that Cabinet ministers were minded to delay the process to gain some much-needed breathing space back in April.

But arch Eurosceptic Jacob Rees-Mogg has called on May to stick to her guns.

Writing in The Daily Telegraph, Rees-Mogg said: “At Chequers [May] must stick to her righteous cause and deliver what she has said she would, she must use her undoubted grace to persevere.”