David Davis may have won. What do I mean? Well I am hearing from multiple sources that the only trade deal the EU’s lead negotiator Michel Barnier will countenance is Davis’s cherished Free Trade Agreement, what he called Canada Plus, rather than any version of May’s Chequers plan.
Here for example is the debrief of an MP on the Brexit select committee chaired by Hilary Benn, who met Barnier yesterday in Brussels:
“Remarkable how dismissive Barnier was of the two central pillars of Chequers – customs and common rule book for goods. It’s not a matter of how it will fare in Parliament. It won’t be agreed by the EU. We are back to Canada-style FTA”.
The Brexiters on the select committee are ecstatic; the Remainers are in abject despair. And to be clear, Barnier was not putting on a special act for British MPs. I am hearing exactly the same about him from Brussels and EU sources.
Now when he was Brexit secretary, Davis came in for a lot of stick, not least from his own ministerial and civil-servant colleagues, for not being ambitious or diligent enough when negotiating with Barnier – and, in the end, May and her senior Whitehall adviser on Brexit, Olly Robbins, went round the back of him and came up with their own Brexit plan. Which prompted David to quit. But for more than two years he told me a Canada-style arrangement was the only realistic proposition. And it looks as though he was right.
Another well-placed source sees what is happening as an extraordinary but powerful alliance between the EU purists and zealots represented by Barnier and the Tories’ True Brexiters of Davis, Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees-Mogg and the European Research Group.
May will say she is no longer negotiating with Barnier, that he matters little these days, and that the future trading relationship will be decided by Merkel, Macron and other EU government heads. But will they really trample wholesale on the views and reservations of their own mandated negotiator, Barnier? And can she simultaneously pretend both that Barnier’s views and those of perhaps 100 of her MPs simply don’t matter?
So as pretty much every Tory MP who is not on May’s payroll will tell you, Chequers is dead. Which means that if May too isn’t to find her career as PM terminated along with it, she may have to resurrect Davis’s Canada plus – which, funnily enough, was her preferred plan, outlined at Lancaster House, at the start of 2017.
This article originally appeared on Robert Peston’s Facebook page