The title of this piece was going to be “Chequers: May’s Neville Chamberlain Moment” an allusion to the attempts by British PM Neville Chamberlain to avert war with Hitler’s Germany, the famous “peace in our time” speech – we all know how that ended. Mrs May emerged from an “awayday” to Chequers with the full cabinet and an agreed plan of action on what would be presented to the EU as the UK’s position. It called for an EU-UK free trade agreement for goods which (they hoped) would obviate the need for a hard border in Ireland (and everywhere else), by maintaining regulatory agreement with the EU. They hoped that it would end freedom of movement (but hoped to facilitate it for UK and European businesses which wanted to deploy staff abroad) and signal a great curtailment (if not and end) to the role of the European Court of Justice.
May and her advisors intended to play hard ball with Brexiters in cabinet, insisting that “collective responsibility” had been restored. It was to be the softest of soft Brexits and the details were promised for this week. However, Monday’s headlines are dominated by the resignation (this time for real) of David Davis, Eurosceptic and Britain’s lead man on the EU Brexit negotiations as minister for the Department for Exiting the EU (DexEu).
The cat is firmly amongst the pigeons. Those on the remain side of the Brexit question point out that the May proposal sees the UK give up influence over all EU regulations and laws (most of which relate to consumer rights and standards, of course), requiring the UK to be a “rule taker” in perpetuity. The Brexit disciples make the same claim, insisting that the UK is to become a “vassal” state and that the proposals will make it all but impossible for the UK to strike free trade deals around the world (so, rare unity there). The remain camp point out that the arrangements exclude the service sector which accounts for 80% of UK GDP and that the EU may well reject the proposal as it seeks to end one of the four freedoms (freedom of movement) whilst maintaining access (partially) to the single market. The EU has yet to comment on the proposals.
Now, the key man on Brexit has resigned. Steve Baker, Davis’s number 2 has also resigned, this forces May into a major re-shuffle just as she tries to sell her “deal” to backbenchers from her own party and the strongly Eurosceptic ERG bloc of 60 MPs. Football may be coming home, but it doesn’t look like this Brexit deal will be, one way or another.