The FT reports
Theresa May is to present a new post-Brexit customs plan to her cabinet this week, in an increasingly desperate attempt to find a solution that can unite her feuding ministers and find favour with a sceptical EU. Details of the new plan have not been set out, but its existence — confirmed by Number 10 — demonstrates that Mrs May has concluded that neither of the two customs options under consideration by ministers for almost a year will fly.
This plan will be a mix of customs alignment and max fac. It will require a longer transition time than two years to implement. It will be provisionally agreed at the cabinet meeting at Chequers on Friday and published in a White Paper next week. Theresa May will then tour EU capitals to sell it. Dissident cabinet members and MPs will hold their fire on a final verdict to hear the EU reactions for a period as long as the “crunch” EU summit in October.
All the “ negotiations” up to now have been shadow boxing including the absurd backstop which Mrs May signed up to in the knowledge that nothing is agreed until everything is as agreed. Naturally the June summit produced nothing as there was nothing from the British to react to, None of the EU posturing need to be taken any more literally than the British fumbling . Instead of being despised as the most ineffectual PM ever, Mrs May stands a chance of becoming the British tortoise who beat the EU hare. She’ll be praised to the skies as the most brilliant of leaders for winning a negotiation by patience and attrition.
Well that’s one scenario and far from favourite. The Sun urges May to call the EU’s ” bluff”
With the clock ticking down fast, No10 are desperate not to see Mrs May boxed into having to walk out of talks if her new blueprint is turned down.
But in a major negotiating strategy clash, Brexiteer ministers instead insist the PM wait for an “inevitable” last minute climb down by EU leaders themselves in October, when panic about no deal sets in.
One Leave backing Cabinet minister told The Sun: “Ireland is desperate for a deal, their economy is totally screwed without one. Belgium will see 4% lopped off its GDP too.
“Of course they will do a deal with us. But everything happens at the last minute with the EU, so we must not be afraid to hold our nerve”.
The latest approach is far from that. It’s based on the assessment of the real negotiator Ollie Robbins.
One government figure said that the clear message had been that ministers may end up having to choose between a Norway-style deal in which Britain remains in the single market but has to accept EU rules, or a simple free-trade agreement that is strongly opposed by business.
Downing Street is understood to be pushing to relax the government’s “red lines” around the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) to unblock the talks. Mrs May has already conceded that the UK would “respect the remit of the ECJ” to remain in EU agencies and she is expected to push her colleagues to extend this concession to cover other areas, such as single market regulations.
Mr Robbins is understood to have made clear during the meetings with ministers that he sees little chance of the EU agreeing to the type of trade deal that would allow British companies to have privileged access outside the terms of the single market. He said that the EU’s public pronouncements that the UK will have to choose between existing models of access reflected its private stance.
Fearing the worst in his terms, Jacob Rees Mogg has couched his threat in historic terms..
At Chequers, the Prime Minister must stick to her “no deal is better than a bad deal” mantra, or risk splitting the Conservative Party like Sir Robert Peel.
There is a need to overcome fear of the future. In leaving the EU the UK will have a new relationship with it based on trade without political convergence. Trade between two friends and partners who respect each other’s internal legal authority. This is the case for the majority of world trade. Yet there are still those who advocate the vassal state with the UK accepting the domestic application of EU laws as a price of trade: something no other trading partner agrees to.
Then we need to call the Irish bluff. There is no insurmountable problem concerning the Northern Ireland border and any solution which would split the UK in two is outrageous. That the EU suggested it is offensive.
This fake alarum should be seen for what it is: domestic Irish politicking in advance of a general election with Dublin being gullibly exploited by Brussels.
The Irish government, if not the European Commission, thought that Dublin had “cast iron guarantees” which suited them last December, then again last March and had hopes finally of getting them in June. They have been disappointed each time by their friends on the continent.
Ireland is being used by the EU to put pressure on us. Her Prime Minister supporting Belgium over England might get cheered in Irish pubs but it is not getting them anywhere in Brussels.
Leaving aside his view of the Irish position, Jacob’s grasp of history is shaky and his judgement selective. In a telltale lapse with this trope of history he dropped a clanger recently by wrongly referring to “Lord” Peel. In fact, Peel remained a baronet, a hereditary knight throughout his life. It was cut short when he suffered a fatal fall from his horse only four years after he resigned from office. Although the Conservative party split, he is remembered as one of the great prime ministers of the 19th century for the cause of the split, the repeal of the Corn Laws which had kept food prices high for the benefit of landowners. The high agricultural prices held back the benefits to working people accruing from spectacular growth in the industrial revolution. Ironically Peel was the great champion of Rees Mogg’s essential cause, free trade which Brexit purports to advance but is unlikely to achieve in lonely British isolation. Very unlike Rees Mogg, Peel knew Ireland well and made his early reputation there.
Had Peel survived, relief for the Irish famine, although it would never have been enough, would likely have increased rather than declined. Peel’s policy was replaced by the disastrous market economic principles favoured by the newly emerging Liberal party. Peel’s reputation is one May should envy; all the more so as the Tory split is unlikely to be severe. Modern MPs are keener to hold onto their seats, and the party identities are more sharply defined today.
However Theresa May’s whole approach to Brexit had been governed by trying to keep her party together. Will she do a Peel after all?
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London