POLITICS
21/09/2018 11:46 BST | Updated 21/09/2018 14:58 BST

Brexit: What The Hell Happens Now?

Theresa May is running out of time.

What happened? Theresa May’s Chequers plan looks toast after EU Council President Donald Tusk declared calmly but devastatingly it “will not work”.

Oh dear. The prime minister appeared shaken and surprised in her press conference yesterday in Salzburg at the public humiliation.

And in an unexpected statement in Downing Street today she demanded “respect” from Brussels and admitted the talks were at an “impasse”.

“The EU should be clear, I will not overturn the result of the referendum, nor will I break up my country. We need serious engagement in resolving the two big issues in the negotiations and we stand ready,” she said.

What the UK proposed: The Chequers plan would see the UK abide by the EU regulations for goods in order to facilitate frictionless trade and avoid the need for a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. 

What’s wrong with that? The EU said this would undermine its so-called four freedoms - free movement of goods, services, capital and persons - as it would give the UK access to the single market without having to accept all of the others. Something it has actually been saying for quite a long time.

What the EU want instead: Brussels has suggested a backstop proposal for Northern Ireland which would see it remain within the EU customs area after Brexit while the rest of the UK left.

So, why not do that? The British government argues this would draw a border down the Irish Sea and undermine the constitutional integrity of the country. No prime minister of any party, May has told the EU, could ever accept placing a border inside the UK.

So what now? The PM has been told by the EU she has until the October 18 summit to come up with a revised plan to deal with the Irish border to bridge the gap between the two sides.

That’s...not long is it? Four weeks is a long time in politics. But also, erm, it’s not that long to come up with a whole new Brexit plan.

Is there any more time? An emergency EU summit had been pencilled in for November if a deal was not completely in place in October. But Tusk also suggested yesterday that May could not count on this. “Without an October grand finale, in a positive sense of this word, there is no reason to organise a special meeting in November,” he warned.

So, between then and now: May has a more immediate problem than the EU. She also has to work out what to tell warring Tory MPs at party conference which starts on September 30th.

Do Tory MPs back her? A lot don’t. And are very vocal about it.

Former Brexit Secretary David Davis told HuffPost UK yesterday a “rock-solid” 40 eurosceptic Tory MPs were prepared to vote against Chequers. And if May comes back with a deal that concedes even more to Brussels, that number would likely rise.

And pro-Remain Tories are equally unimpressed. Anna Soubry declared the Chequers deal dead. “Having been nailed to its perch this Chequers parrot is no more, it is bereft of life, it rests in peace, it is indeed an ex parrot,” she tweeted. While Philip Lee said the Article 50 process should be paused to allow for a second referendum.

Wait, remind me what Chequers is about, again? You can read a simple explainer on that here.

Referendum #2? The cross-party People’s Vote campaign has seized on the Salzburg ambush as proof the British public need to be given a referendum on what to do next.

Not so fast: May has categorically ruled out holding another vote. Legislation would need to be passed in parliament to hold one - something the current government would not do. And Jeremy Corbyn has, despite mounting pressure, refused to back a referendum.

No deal, then. May herself raised the stakes this week by insisting the choice was between her deal or no deal. And leave-backing Transport Secretary Chris Grayling insisted this morning the government was “preparing hard” for a failure to reach an agreement.

Oh no, not another one. The possibility of deadlock in parliament over what Brexit route to take could result in another option for the PM: a general election.