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Brexit, what happens now?

22 September 2018

10:37 AM

22 September 2018

10:37 AM

It is the morning after the statement before. So, what happens now? That’s the question I attempt to answer in my Sun column this morning.

Theresa May is trying to shock the EU into engaging with her Chequers plan by saying she really is serious about no deal. Her statement yesterday was meant to be a very public burning of her boats; a message that she won’t sign up to either of the options they’re trying to push her towards.

But if we don’t get any sign from the EU in the next fortnight that they are prepared to be flexible, May will come under huge pressure from her Cabinet colleagues to change tack.

There are a growing number of Cabinet Ministers who think that with the EU rejecting Chequers, May should turn to a more Canada-style approach—pushing for the free trade deal that the EU has repeatedly said is on offer. ‘There’s an opportunity amid the embarrassment’, one member of this group tells me.

Number 10 reject this argument, saying that a Canada-style deal doesn’t solve the Irish backstop problem. But these ministers think that by moving away from Chequers, the UK could create the space for a compromise on the Irish border which involves everyone taking a bit of pain.

Another problem for Downing Street is that ministers have been shocked by how blindsided Number 10 were by the Salzburg snub. This will make it harder for them to persuade ministers to trust its judgement on what compromises are needed to get to a deal.

I understand that Olly Robbins, the PM’s chief Europe adviser, wants the UK to commit to matching EU social and environmental regulations in future as well as product regulations. This is meant to deal with one of the EU’s objection to Chequers, that the UK could gain a competitive advantage by not following every new EU rule in these fields.

But several key ministers have objections to this. They are now less likely to accept this compromise because they are far more sceptical of Robbins’ reading of the state of the negotiations.

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