May unable to set Brexit agenda

May unable to set Brexit agenda


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The British prime minister Theresa May is unable to reign over her party, her parliamentary group, or even her cabinet; she cannot set the Brexit negotiating agenda, in London or Brussels.

Backbenchers’ revolt

The Sunday Times warned that May is facing a threat to her leadership by hardline Brexiteers planning to destroy her Brexit plan and install Boris Johnson in Downing Street.

The revolt has the support of the Tory election guru, Sir Lynton Crosby who is reportedly coordinating the front with the European Research Group (ERG) led by Jacob Rees-Mogg.

Boris Johnson is no longer silent. In his latest Daily Telegraph article published on Monday, Johnson accuses May of leading the UK to a disastrous conclusion in ongoing negotiations.

“The UK has agreed to hand over £40bn of taxpayers’ money for two-thirds of diddly squat,” Johnson writes.

Unconvincing optimism

May insists her plan for a “common rulebook” with the EU for trading in goods, but no member of the Customs Union offers a pragmatic resolution for the Irish question while ending jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and freedom of movement in the UK.

Under her plan, UK Courts would naturally abide by ECJ interpretation of EU rules. Naturally, Brexitters are not too keen on that prospect.

May’s Brexit roadmap was dubbed the Chequers plan, named after the country retreat where it was “agreed” by her cabinet. In fact, there was no agreement; the Checquers roadmap triggered the resignation of her foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, and her Brexit Secretary, David Davies.

May’s critics suggest the plan limits the UK’s ability to negotiate its own trade deals, as it will not be able to deviate from EU regulation to achieve competitive advantage. At the same time, the UK will become a rule-taker, throwing away most of the “advantages of Brexit,” in the terms used by Boris Johnson.

Mr Johnson insists that the border issue in Northern Ireland can be resolved by technical means, referring to the old “maximum-facilitation” plan, preferred by the former Brexit Secretary David Davies. The plan has repeatedly been dismissed as unworkable in Brussels and London alike.

No lifeline from Brussels

But, May’s plan appears to get no sympathy in Brussels either.

In an interview with Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung published on Sunday, the European Commission’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said the Chequers deal is incompatible with the “single market and the European project.”

He called on London to make an off-the-shelf choice between the Norwegian model – i.e. Customs Union membership – or third country status.

“… If we let the British pick the raisins out of our rules, that would have serious consequences,” Barnier said, warning that other “third parties” would seek the same benefits.

May stays until she leaves

On Sunday, Mrs May wrote in an article published by the Sunday Telegraph that she remains “confident” of securing a good deal. But, she vowed not to be pushed into accepting compromises “that are not in our national interest.”

Of course, the Brexit Secretary Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab also proclaims he “stubborn optimism” in securing a deal with Brussels. So far, this feeling does not appear to be grounded on concrete progress, while Raab himself admits that a resolution by October is not likely.

Other than the prime minister, the only one who appears to believe on the viability of the Chequers plan appears to be her former Secretary of State, Damian Green. Anyone else commenting on the Chequers plan will frequently evoke the phrase “dead-in-the-water.”

But, May’s weakness is often the key to her survival.

While it is true that there probably isn’t a parliamentary majority ready to back a “hard Brexit,” neither Labour opposition nor the Conservative Party could sign an “off-the-shelf deal” with Brussels. This dead end is the last remaining argument in favour of Theresa May’s leadership, as there is no apparent political party or leader able to succeed where she is clearly failing.

For the moment, hardline Brexiteers appear happy to feed the political impasse, as long as the UK prepares for the possibility of a “no deal.” Speaking to the BBC on Sunday, Mr Davies dismissed the Chequers proposal as “almost worse than being in” and, as Theresa May has said, no deal is better than a bad deal. For the moment, “no deal” does not appear to be the worst case scenario for many in the Conservative Party.

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