The Chequers Plan did the impossible in uniting almost everyone against it. The immediate resignations of senior cabinet members and the instantaneous lukewarm reception of the EU’s Michel Barnier should have been circling crows.
Nevertheless, as the months progressed, what perhaps may have not been so ostensible in early July, certainly became the dead horse afflicted with decomposition in Salzburg last week. In the Austrian city, a continuum of EU leaders issued their most stinging rebuke of the Chequers plan. From the Czech and Maltese Prime Ministers’ calls for a second referendum, to Emmanuel Macron’s verbal assault on Brexit itself, it is evident that Chequers failed to be taken seriously on the continent. To make matters worse, the European Council President Donald Tusk not only labelled the Chequers plan as unworkable but added insult to injury with a churlish Instagram post mocking the Government’s approach.
Indeed, the lack of EU enthusiasm over the Chequers proposals is quite warranted. Its efforts to carve apart the single market between goods and services was a clear red line for the bloc, and correspondingly a red line for Conservative MPs who just thirteen months earlier stood on a manifesto committed to the UK’s withdrawal from the single market. The Chequers plan reneged on this policy pledge by committing the United Kingdom to still be subject to EU rules and regulations on goods through a Common Rulebook on goods, but also went further by continuing the UK’s membership of a swathe of EU agencies, with additional payments to the EU for participation in those agencies, persisting UK jurisdiction under the European Court of Justice, and a rewording of existing freedom of movement rules.
As a result, it is of little surprise to note that the Chequers plan facilitated high degree of discountenance among Conservative MPs. Former Brexit minister Steve Baker, prior to the EU Salzburg conference, expressed his grave concern about the potential of the proposals to split both the country and Conservative Party. His successor in the chairmanship of the Eurosceptic European Research Group, Jacob Rees-Mogg argued the implementation of the Prime Minister’s ‘watered down Brexit’ would be tantamount to have ‘never left the EU in the first place’. More noteworthy however were the comments made by pro-European Conservative former ministers, Justine Greening and Nicky Morgan. Both described Chequers as ‘dead’ with the former adding that ‘Chequers is a fudge…it’s time we stopped pretending otherwise. It doesn’t have the support of the public, my party or even those ministers who spent two years negotiating on behalf of Britain’.
If Support for Chequers cannot be found on the government’s own benches, a glance across the House of Commons only underlines the coroner’s signature on Chequers’ death certificate. Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer described the proposals as ‘flawed in many respects’, with his backbench colleague Chuka Umunna confirming that ‘there is no Labour Remainer who would support May’s Chequers deal’.
In unison, EU leaders and a cross section of Conservative and Labour MPs have unanimously and unambiguously declared Chequers dead and given Labour’s pledge to vote down any deal the government returns to the Commons with, it is essential that a new plan be found.
On Monday, the IEA launched its Plan A+ which models a future UK-EU relationship on a Canada – EU style agreement. It has sought to assuage the reasons for a growing number of Conservative MPs to reject Chequers and guarantee that the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union does indeed allow the UK to regain sovereign control over its laws, borders and money. This is a positive step forward in finding a viable alternative to the currently rotting carcass of Chequers and could be the route through which the British Government could attain support for its negotiating approach.
For almost everyone, Chequers is dead. Brexit by no means is not.