UK Conservatives turn their face from Brussels to Washington

UK Conservatives turn their face from Brussels to Washington


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Theresa May received no lifeline from EU heads of States in Salzburg on Thursday.

The President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, made clear that the UK plan “will not work” because it is undermining the single market. His Instagram post offering Theresa May some cake but “Sorry no cherries” leaves little room for the prime minister to save face in London.

While her hardline ally James Brokenshire told the BBC on Friday morning that the Chequers plan remains “credible,” one would struggle to find a second endorsement of a plan increasingly considered dead in the water.

The Conservative leader is heading towards a party conference next week (September 30, October 3rd) facing a backbenchers’ mutiny, four weeks of negotiating space and no viable Brexit roadmap, acceptable in London or Brussels.

For Brussels, the choice remains Norway, “Canada dry” – without an Irish resolution – or a disorderly Brexit. For many Conservative backbenchers, the choice is simple: it is “no deal.”

Theresa May and her government have been trying to persuade EU leaders to “evolve their position.” That was in vain.

Former Brexit secretary David Davis said that it was now “very, very difficult” to meet EU requirements so its “time for a rethink,” Reuters reports. For many hardliners, the thinking has begun and may not involve Theresa May.

Conservative thinking

Conservative think-tanks in the US and the UK published on Tuesday the framework of a so-called “ideal” Anglo-American trade agreement that is predicated on a “no-deal” Brexit.

Also on Tuesday, Leave hardliners launched their so-called “chuck the Chequers” campaign. The Leave Means Leave group took out advertising space in 30 regional newspapers across the UK to vehemently rejecting Theresa May’s Chequers proposal.

The ultra-conservative proposal is championed by think tanks associated with both the Trump and Leave campaigns. It is no accident that it was published on the eve of the European Summit in Salzburg.

Their policy framework proposed is clearly incompatible with EU norms. The political message is clear: it is either Brussels or Washington.

The timely transatlantic initiative

The paper was launched on the Conservative CATO Institute platform and bears the signature of the Conservative Member of the European Parliament Daniel Hannan, of the Initiative for Free Trade (IFT).

Legally known as Free Trade Ltd, the IFT is a lobby group founded in the summer of 2017 with the help of Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, and Liam Fox.

According to The Guardian, the paper has been drafted with the additional support of other Eurosceptic and libertarian outfits such as the UK Adam Smith Institute, the US Heritage Foundation, American Enterprise Institute, and Competitive Enterprise Institute.

The envisaged trade deal would open up the UK economy through unprecedented deregulation across the board, including financial services, data, public procurement, and agriculture. In sum, this bilateral deal will go further than the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiated on a multilateral level between Washington and Brussels.

As in the case of TTIP, the UK would open up public procurement to US companies, including the National Health Service (NHS), while also lifting barriers to US agricultural goods. “Barriers” in this context would mean environmental safeguards, such as barriers to GM seeds and the lowering of animal husbandry standards.

No one is surprised with the level of conservative transatlantic coordination. During that visit to the UK in July 2018, President Trump gave an interview to the Sun in which he criticised Theresa May for being “too weak” in her negotiations with the EU, arguing that her Brexit plan (Chequers) would “kill” the chances of a trade deal with Washington. He also praised the former foreign secretary Boris Johnson, who in his view would make an excellent prime minister.

Calls for a second referendum

While Leave hardliners are mounting pressure for a “no-deal” Brexit, there is increasing pressure for a second referendum, known as the “People’s Vote” campaign.

In an interview with the Daily Express published on Wednesday, September 19, Theresa May made clear that the government needs to deliver on the referendum result or risk loss of confidence in the democratic process.

“Brexit is not inevitable – it can, and it must be stopped,” the leader of the Liberal Party Sir Vince Cable told his party’s annual conference on Tuesday. But, the Liberals have failed to lead the opposition against Brexit rallying MPs that favour Remain in the Conservative and Labour parties.

The independent People’s Vote campaign group said on Tuesday that the UK parliament would have a number of opportunities to call a second referendum.  In an article to the Observer on Sunday, September 16 the People’s Vote initiative received the endorsement of the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan.

That is the most prominent Labour endorsement. However, the leader of the Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn is nowhere near the political endorsement of the initiative. Clearly, conservative coordination and political timing dominate the political agenda. Not leaving appears a long lost cause, for the right but also for the left of the political spectrum.

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