At the opening of the Westminster season, no time has been wasted for open warfare to break out inside the Conservative party. Theresa May’s Chequers plan is assailed from both left and right, in the old terms, between Leave and Remain. Its main thrust – separating the authority to lay down rules for goods from regulations for services – is now specifically rejected by Brussels. Crying wolf is easy but this looks really serious. Boris slaps down his challenge in a peal of metaphors.
Out of their corners come Dominic Raab and Michel Barnier, shrugging their shoulders and beating their chests – and I just hope you aren’t one of those trusting souls who still thinks it could really go either way. The fix is in. The whole thing is about as pre-ordained as a bout between Giant Haystacks and Big Daddy; and in this case, I am afraid, the inevitable outcome is a victory for the EU, with the UK lying flat on the canvas with 12 stars circling symbolically over our semi-conscious head.
… the reality is that in this negotiation the EU has so far taken every important trick. The UK has agreed to hand over £40 billion of taxpayers’ money for two thirds of diddly squat. In adopting the Chequers proposals, we have gone into battle with the white flag fluttering over our leading tank.
After the disastrous general election last year, Mrs May is vulnerable if more than seven Tory MPs decide to oppose her. Brexiteers say that they have 60 or more MPs on their side but most are unwilling yet to go public.
The Stand Up 4 Brexit signatories, who also include Conor Burns, a staunch ally of Mr Johnson ( and born in Belfast in 1972 and reared there until he was 8), have pledged to fight plans to keep EU rules on British goods, the Northern Ireland “backstop” plan and free movement, which allows EU citizens to collect benefits. This would force Mrs May back to the drawing board to restart negotiations, which in turn would increase the likelihood of a no-deal Brexit.
No 10 accepting Johnson’s thin code for a challenge to May’s leadership.
“What we need at this time is serious leadership, with a serious plan. That’s exactly what the country has with this prime minister and this Brexit plan.
There’s no new ideas in this article to respond to. What we need at this time is serious leadership with a serious plan. That’s exactly what the country has with this prime minister and this Brexit plan.”
From the intellectual left of the party, Nick Boles claims the chances of the Commons approving Chequers – even in the unlikely event of acceptance by Brussels – is “ as close to zero as anything in politics”. Mr Boles has published his own plan for Brexit, which would involve the UK ditching the current transition period with the EU and instead adopting the Norway model before moving to a Canada-style free trade deal.
“We can’t get to Nirvana in one step. I am suggesting we reject the current withdrawal plan in its entirety.”
Remainer and ex-cabinet minister Justine Greening has just called for the abandonment of Chequers and “ the Peoples Vote” – a second referendum
The outlook from Brussels is no brighter. On Friday.. Michel Barnier was cautiously upbeat.
Mr Barnier said there was a “measure of flexibility” and if the process slipped by a “few days or weeks” it would still be possible for the UK to leave the EU with a deal, if approved by the UK and EU Parliaments, on schedule.
The EU negotiator said the “building blocks” of an agreement were falling into place.
He repeated his offer of an “unprecedented” future partnership with the UK but insisted this depended on an “orderly” withdrawal and settling key outstanding issues.
But by this morning, the angle reported was seriously downbeat.
In his most damning condemnation yet of the UK government’s plans, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator said the British offer on customs was illegal and its suggestion of a “common rulebook” on goods would kill the European project.
Instead, in an intervention that will concern the 186,000 people directly employed by the car industry in the UK, Barnier warned European manufacturers that the streamlined system of imports and exports between the UK and the rest of Europe would come to an end.
The former French minister added that in order for EU carmakers to enjoy low tariffs on their exports around the world, they would need to shun British manufacturers.
What happened in the meantime?.
Next up. is it Canada plus plus plus; the People’s Choice – a second referendum; a Chequers plan amended “in the national interest ; or collapse?
With at least 20 Conservatives pledged against outcome resembling Chequers, which way would the DUP jump?
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