UK Prime Minister Theresa May just can’t catch a break.
Her wildly unpopular “Chequers Agreement” has pushed Brexiteers in her own party to the verge of mutiny. Labour, her chief Parliamentary rivals, are pushing for a popular referendum on the final deal – a step that would massively complicate her already fraught negotiations (though Labour leaders say canceling Brexit would not be an option during the referendum) – and the European Union leaders upon whom she was depending for flexibility have so far been unwilling to cede even an inch to help buttress her floundering administration.
And as if all of this wasn’t bad enough, May’s aides have reportedly begun contingency planning for a snap election in November to save the Brexit talks (and May’s job) after EU leaders rejected her Chequers agreement. According to the Times of London, strategists have begun war-gaming” the outcome of a public vote to help win backing for her Brexit plan. All of this comes after May suffered a humiliation at the hands of the 27 remaining EU leaders when European Council President Donald Tusk told her last week that her Chequers plan risked “undermining the single market”, and that even her staunchest Continental allies (including Angela Merkel and France’s Emmanuel Macron) had rejected it in brusque terms.
“Everybody shared the view that while there are positive elements in the Chequers proposal, the suggested framework for economic co-operation will not work, not least because it is undermining the single market,” Tusk said. He also said that he could not “exclude” the possibility that the UK could exit the EU in March with no deal.
Bloomberg reported on Monday that pro-Brexit Tory MPs have launched their own hard-line Brexit plan ahead of next week’s Tory conference that advocates for a more aggressive negotiating stance, as well as searching for other trade agreements around the world. The proposal is backed by David Davis, the Brexit secretary who quit over the summer over his disgust with May’s Chequers plan.
Former Brexit Secretary David Davis, who quit in July because he disagreed with May, is backing the proposal published by the Institute of Economic Affairs think tank, which recommends preparing a “more aggressive” strategy for the EU negotiations, and opening trade talks with other countries around the world.
The report, which attracted the support of several prominent pro-Brexit MPs, including Jacob Rees-Mogg, chairman of the European Research Group, is predicated on the idea that the UK should pursue a European trade agreement that more closely resembles its trading arrangement with Canada. According to the Independent, roughly 12 cabinet ministers now support a “Canada-style” trade arrangement, which would be predicated on a “clean Brexit”, while six support a Norway style deal that would see the UK remain a member of the European Economic Area.
“The opportunity before the U.K. as a result of Brexit is huge: but if we squander it, the ‘new normal’ of limited economic growth will prevail, with an EU system that is failing to respond to the challenges of the modern economy,” it said. “The U.K. running its own economy will not render a deal with the EU impossible. It will bring back real growth, let the U.K. do other trade deals, and create leverage to get positive results from EU negotiations.”
The study, titled “Plan A+ – Creating a Prosperous Post-Brexit U.K.,” will add fuel to the Tory revolt against May’s so-called Chequers plan for a close “free-trade area” with the EU. Davis and former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson both quit the Cabinet in July because they believed May’s proposal was fatally flawed and would tie the UK’s hands.
Instead, they’ve both argued for a more streamlined agreement based on the EU’s recent deal with Canada. May says this isn’t good enough and would put jobs and peace in Northern Ireland at risk. But her own plan is in trouble after EU leaders rejected key parts of it at a summit last week in Salzburg.
Plan A+ is supported by Shanker Singham, an advisor to pro-Brexit Tories, as well as influential PM Jacob Rees-Mogg.
The Institute of Economic Affairs report was written by Shanker Singham, director of the IEA trade unit and an influential adviser to pro-Brexit Tories, and it’s supported by senior Conservatives including Jacob Rees-Mogg, chairman of the party’s euroskeptic European Research Group.
The UK’s post-Brexit immigration policy is expected to be a major topic at a Tory cabinet meeting set for Thursday evening in the UK. One cabinet minister is reportedly working on a plan to distribute visas on the basis of skill. Meanwhile, preference would be given to applicants from countries that had a free-trade agreement with the UK.
At Monday’s Cabinet meeting, ministers are expected to discuss a range of issues including what immigration policy the U.K. should adopt after Brexit. According to a person familiar with his thinking, Home Secretary Sajid Javid will set out a plan for a system in which immigrants are given visas on the basis of skills or wealth.
The cabinet meeting comes roughly one week before the Tories host their annual conference, where Brexit is once again expected to dominate the conversation. Despite last week’s defeat, May continues to support her Chequers plan, saying its the only deal that would avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland.
For his part, Tusk has insisted that an October summit between May and European leaders will be the “moment of truth” for Brexit negotiations, as will – we imagine – a following summit set for November…and every successive summit up until March 29, when leaders from both sides will be forced to cobble together some last-minute contingency plan to prevent all hell from breaking lose on March 29, when the UK will leave the European Union with or without a deal.