K E Y P O I N T S
Theresa May has faced down the Brexiteers in her Cabinet to win agreement on a new plan for a ‘business friendly’ UK-EU trade deal.
After 12 hours of talks at her country home of Chequers, none of her critics resigned in protest, though several were not happy with the overall ‘soft Brexit’ package.
The plans propose that trade in industrial and agricultural products should be governed by a ‘common rulebook’ that effectively continues current EU standards and prevents delays at ports and airports.
The UK Parliament would ‘take back control’ by having the power to align UK goods rules with Brussels - or to diverge from them.
Trade in services, like financial services, would not be covered by common rules and the UK accepts there will be less mutual access of their markets.
A ‘facilitated customs arrangement’ would operate under a ‘combined customs territory’. The UK would apply its own tariffs for goods intended for the UK, but set EU tariffs for goods heading into the EU.
The plan aims to allow Britain to set tariffs with the rest of the world while continuing ‘frictionless’ trade at the border with the EU - and avoid a ‘hard border’ between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.
A “joint institutional framework” would interpret UK-EU agreements, but UK courts would have to show “due regard paid to EU case law” on goods harmonisation rules.
The jurisdiction of the European court of justice (ECJ) over the UK will end, but trade would be subject to binding independent arbitration in the event of any disputes- and crucially the UK would take regard of the ECJ as “the interpreter of EU rules”.
Preparations for a ‘no deal’ Brexit will be stepped up in case Brussels doesn’t like the compromise plan.
S N A P V E R D I C T
From HuffPost UK’s Paul Waugh:
The Agatha Christie-style country house gathering had been hyped up, but in the end no political murder weapons were found at the scene. Yes, the PM avoided the resignations that could have torn her Government apart and sparked a leadership challenge, a move that would in turn have triggered demands for another snap general election.
But as May followed up the deal with a letter to all MPs stressing collective Cabinet responsibility would apply, it was clear that several Brexiteers had only decided to back down because they were outnumbered by 18 to seven. Boris Johnson was furious he was given the 110-page document less than 24 hours before the Chequers summit.
Their wounds remain raw. One told me that they suspect that Brussels will say ‘Non’ to the compromise because it’s just too complex and undermines its own simpler rules structure. “This is so forward-leaning that she’s left herself with nowhere to go. If the EU says we have to be in the European Economic Area [an even softer Brexit] and accept free movement, the party will blow up.”
The one thing that comforts the Eurosceptics is May’s agreement to step up ‘no deal’ planning, “given the short period remaining before the necessary conclusion of negotiations”. If the EU refuses to accept this plan, the hardliners think they can swing the majority of their MPs into backing a no deal Brexit.
The Chequers summit may well turn out to be a classic case of a murder without a body. Just whether that body belongs to May or her Brexiteers’ is the unsolved mystery.
W H A T H A P P E N S N E X T ?
The Prime Minister will be under pressure to make a statement to Parliament on Monday to explain and answer questions on what was agreed.
May is then set to meet her MPs in the Commons on Monday evening, when the backbench 1922 Committee convenes for a special session.
The full ‘White Paper’ on Brexit is expected to be published by Thursday, when there could be demands for another Commons statement, possibly by the Brexit Secretary David Davis.
Davis and the PM’s chief Brexit official Olly Robbins will travel to Brussels to start to work their way through the details of the document with Michel Barnier and his team.
Crunch Commons votes on the UK staying in the EU single market and customs union are expected on July 16 and 17 when the long-awaited Taxation (Cross Border Trade) Bill and a Trade Bill will be debated.
The EU summit in October is the next deadline for agreement. Parliament will then get to debate and vote on the deal, ahead of the UK formally quitting the EU on March 29, 2019.
R E A C T I O N
Shadow international trade secretary Barry Gardiner: “There is a danger that this is a lowest common denominator plan that has really been constructed to hold the Cabinet together rather than to secure the strong negotiating position that we need with the EU, that will create jobs, that will create growth in our economy.”
Transport Secretary and Cabinet Brexiteer Chris Grayling: “I didn’t campaign to leave the European Union to have a different specification of motor car on sale in the UK to the one that’s on sale in France. This is simply saying that we will effectively sell the same products across Europe as we do now – it’s what business does and would do anyway, nobody produces a different product for one country.”
Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, leader of the influential European Research Group of pro-Brexit Conservatives: “As with eggs: An egg that is very softly boiled isn’t boiled at all. A very soft Brexit means that we haven’t left, we are simply a rule-taker. That is not something that this country voted for, it is not what the Prime Minister promised.”
Business Secretary Greg Clark: “Very positive conclusion to Chequers meeting. Free trade area will mean zero tariffs and zero friction for trade between UK and EU countries.”