When Theresa May tried to get her Cabinet to agree on a unified Brexit position at Chequers earlier this month, the hope was that this would mark a new chapter of party unity that would allow the Prime Minister to get on with delivering Brexit. Yet a week or so later, the Conservative party is more divided than ever. After May finally showed her hand on Brexit, she has seen frontbench resignations, blue-on-blue warfare, a growing Eurosceptic rebellion and calls for a second referendum.
This afternoon things came to a head in the Chamber. Despite calls from May over the weekend for Tory MPs not to frustrate the Customs Bill, No 10 were forced to cave to pressure and accepted four amendments to the legislation. Downing Street confirmed that the government would accept the amendments from Brexiteer MPs – led by the European Research Group (ERG) – dissatisfied with the Chequers position over fears it is too soft. These amendments could stop the UK from collecting tariffs for the EU, part of Theresa May’s Chequers plan, unless the rest of the EU reciprocates. Another rules out an Irish sea border which could make the EU’s ‘backstop’ on customs impossible.
Those tabling the amendments thought they would mean the prime minister’s trade plans were ‘dead in the water’. No 10, however, insist that the changes are ‘consistent’ with her plan. Both sides can’t be right so it appears we are back to the government Brexit position of old: fudge. What’s clear is that Downing Street did not want to give the ERG the chance to flex their muscle and show how many Tory MPs are unhappy with May’s plan. This move in turn has riled Remain Tory MPs who are losing faith in Theresa May’s resolve. What is the government’s current Brexit position? To be confirmed.