9 July 2018

May’s flawed Chequers plan makes a confidence vote inevitable


It’s two and counting. Two Cabinet resignations within 24 hours over Theresa May’s crazy, unworkable, non-Brexit Chequers plan. If she doesn’t ditch it there may be more. A no-confidence motion now seems inevitable. She may yet win that, but the Brexiteer Conservative MPs will surely, in large numbers – perhaps 80+, maybe over 100 – vote down any deal based on her plan if it comes to the Commons. In unholy alliance with Labour, they could have the numbers to win.

May’s plan, however, is most unlikely to turn into a deal. It attempts to cherry-pick the EU’s “Four Freedoms” by allowing free movement in goods but not services or labour (she surely hopes to retain free movement of capital, though she hasn’t said as much, and we’ll see what the EU thinks about that). So how could the EU do other than press for more?

Indeed, the very fact Cabinet Remainers are backing her plan surely indicates they don’t expect it to be the end of the story. A Canada-type free trade agreement would be acceptable to Brussels – forget all that nonsense about requiring Northern Ireland to stay in a customs union – they’d give up on that pretty damn quickly if an FTA were available and the alternative were no deal. That type of deal would also have included extensive agreement on at least non-financial services.

May’s Chequers proposal had no services deal at all. So they must be assuming there would be a services component later. They were just waiting for the EU to demand the inclusion of services so we could capitulate on that as well.

Indeed, that’s a key element of both Davis’s and Boris’s resignations: the assumption that May’s deal isn’t the end of the concessions. Imagine how foolish May’s going to look if she survives a stream of ministerial resignations on her plan, only for the EU to turn it down.

Boris’ resignation may be the end of his time in truly top office, though perhaps one could imagine him returning as a liberal Home Secretary in someone else’s ultra-dry government. There is also now a surely-irreparable cleavage between Gove and the other Brexiteers. Gove has, alas, totally thrown his lot in with the establishment figures in anticipation of succeeding May.

May’s plan is absurd in many ways. Its new customs partnership raises new barriers to non-EU imports into the UK. It commits the world’s sixth largest manufacturer to being a rule-taker on goods regulations, preventing us from creating our own new and better regulatory frameworks to respond to and encourage tomorrow’s new technologies. It prevents us from doing full spectrum trade deals with the US, Japan and Australia. It doesn’t include services. And the EU will probably turn it down.

May has been a disastrous Prime Minister, especially since last December’s Phase 1 deal. That’s when she should have gone. The Brexiteers failed to move against her when they ought to have done, and the consequence is our current crisis.

There should be a leadership election. Someone can argue for May’s plan. Someone else for EEA+. Someone for Canada-or-no-deal. Then the Party can pick what it wants and the rest of us will rally round. Until we argue and vote this out, there will only be bitterness, recriminations and betrayal.

Andrew Lilico is an economist and political writer.