It’s neither breakthrough nor breakdown

I think we may safely say the point of crisis has arrived at last. It may last for some time.

After the false optimism of Saturday, the backstop, the entire Brexit negotiation, the future of the government and the stability of the Union are all in play, as Theresa May “ branded the draft deal a non-starter”. The FT sums up the general gloomy view of the correspondents on Sunday night..

Brexit talks reached a dramatic stand-off in Brussels on Sunday night, after Theresa May warned that a draft treaty to take Britain out of the EU was a “non-starter” and risked tearing her government apart. Mrs May despatched Dominic Raab, her Brexit secretary, to Brussels to make clear that she could not sign up to the current terms for Britain’s exit at a European Council meeting on Wednesday. Mr Raab returned home after tense talks with Michel Barnier, the EU chief negotiator, lasting only an hour; no further talks are scheduled ahead of the summit, raising the prospect of a complete breakdown in the Brexit process. EU leaders may conclude there is not sufficient progress to justify proceeding to a special Brexit summit in November to seal a deal, leaving talks in limbo and Britain heading towards an economically damaging “no deal” exit next March. A joint Brexit department and Number 10 statement said that despite “real progress in a number of key areas”, “unresolved issues” remained following talks between Mr Raab and Mr Barnier. The UK is “still committed to making progress” at Wednesday’s EU summit. On a day of high drama, EU and British negotiators in Brussels sketched out the outline of an exit treaty. However, Mr Raab arrived late in the afternoon for talks with Mr Barnier to confirm that it would not fly at Westminster.

Downing St said there were “still big issues to resolve on the backstop”, while Mrs May’s allies tried to dampen speculation that a deal could still be on the cards before Wednesday’s summit. However, Mrs May also has to manage the choreography of any deal making to prove to Eurosceptics and the DUP that she has fought a tough battle and won concessions from Brussels at the last minute. One senior EU diplomat said that negotiations of this importance “never go completely smoothly”. Another speculated that it may require Mrs May herself to visit Brussels for the deal to come together. The EU side have warned London that this week’s summit will be a “moment of truth” for the negotiations, where leaders will decide whether enough progress has been made in talks to warrant a special summit in November..

May is still committed to taking Chequers to the EU summit on Wednesday and to propose continuing negotiations until the special summit in mid November?. Will the cabinet and the party let her?  Would the EU change its position in a month?   

The Sunday Times has claimed that up to 44 letters have now been sent to the chairman of the Conservative backbench 1922 committee from Tory MPs demanding a vote of no confidence in May. If the chair, Sir Graham Brady, gets 48 letters, he has to call a vote.

If a leadership challenge doesn’t  emerge, will enough Labour MPs bale her out? Tweet from Tim Shipman political editor, Sunday Times

This is the game now. The outcome of everything depends on how many Labour MPs think like Caroline Flint

I think if a reasonable deal is on the table the question for some of my Labour colleagues is ‘why wouldn’t you support a deal, why would you stand along [with] Boris Johnson or Jacob Rees-Mogg who want us to crash out without a deal

Any other ideas?

From free thinking Tory MP Nick Boles

The PM should stop trying to reconcile the irreconcilable. Instead she should announce that the UK will spend the interim period inside EEA/EFTA and a temporary customs union and negotiate our long term relationship from there. This is a plan that could win the support of most Tory and DUP MPs, as well as many Labour and SNP MPs. It also attracts greater public support than any other version of Brexit

Paul Goodman editor of the forum Conservative Home sees No Deal not as a disaster but as a refusal to play the  EU’s game, backstop and all.  This is his scenario. “It’s time for May to choose between the backstop and her country”  Under the backstop..

  Northern Ireland would effectively remain in the Single Market.  So even if the customs union agreement applied to the whole UK, one part of the it would be in the Single Market and the rest would not.  This would break up the Union in much the same way that the Prime Minister claims her Chequers proposal was drafted to avoid.  Let’s think about what would follow.

The DUP sometimes bluffs, like others in politics.  But it surely could not connive in the separation of Northern Ireland from Great Britain.  At this point, May would lose her Commons majority.

If she lost a leadership ballot, or was so wounded that she had to resign, a candidate would surely stand on the platform that May pays lip service to: that no deal is better than a bad deal.  He or she would argue that the EU sees backstops and concessions and resignations and the entire Article 50 process to date as a sign of weakness.

It would follow that he would put to the EU, say, the David Owen plan: transition followed by continued EEA membership followed by a Canadian-type deal.  He would propose an end-date to any customs union of, for example, December 2021 – the one agreed in outline between the Prime Minister and Davis.  The backstop, together with the rest of the Withdrawal Agreement, would wither on the vine, since “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”.  And if the EU didn’t agree to these terms, then there would be No Deal.

In short, this person would maintain that there’s only one language the EU understands.  So it’s preoccupied by the fear that Brexit Britain will be free to set its laws, tax and regulation as it pleases?  (Hence the driving reason for its rejection of Chequers in Saltzburg: Barnier presented it to the EU27 as a plot to out-compete them.)  Very well, then: let us make it clear that we’re prepared to do precisely that.

 

 

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