POLITICS
21/09/2018 15:34 BST | Updated 21/09/2018 15:53 BST

Theresa May Was Speaking To Leave Voters And Tory MPs, Not The EU – HuffPost Verdict

"Hardcore Brexiteers are even more ready than Brussels to play the game of ‘Chequers chicken’."

K E Y  P O I N T S

  • Theresa May has demanded the EU treat the UK with “respect” and admitted the Brexit talks were at an “impasse”.
  • European Council President Donald Tusk yesterday ripped apart the PM’s Chequers proposal, declaring it simply “will not work”.
  • Speaking in Downing Street today, May said the current “unacceptable” counter-proposals from the EU would either overturn the referendum result of split the UK in half by placing a border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the country.
  • Her intervention has raised prospects that the UK could crash out of the EU with no deal.
  • Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab accused the EU of ambushing the prime minister at the summit in Salzburg on Thursday.

S N A P   V E R D I C T  

From HuffPost UK’s Paul Waugh:

You really couldn’t make it up. Theresa May’s address-to-the-nation on Brexit was delayed by ‘power problems’ in Downing Street. The technical issues postponing the live televised speech were the perfect metaphor for critics who think the power outage in No.10 has been obvious ever since she threw away her Tory majority at the last election.

Before May stepped up to the podium, there had been fevered speculation that she would either be quitting, or making a back-me-or-sack-me plea to her MPs, or calling another snap poll. There was whispered gossip of another Cabinet minister planning to quit this weekend, in protest at the Chequers compromise.

In the end, her main message was to tell the EU how angry she was with them for disrespecting her – and the UK – in Salzberg yesterday. The PM tried to, for want of a better phrase, take back control of the negotiations with Brussels. There was an implicit threat that she would unilaterally collapse the talks unless the EU explained in detail its objections and its own alternative. “Until we do, we cannot make progress,” was the telling phrase.

She could have said this yesterday at her press conference, if she hadn’t been so rattled by the EU’s rebuff. She used the French phrase ‘impasse’ today, but perhaps ‘esprit d’escaliers’ would have been more apt, given she had finally come up with the tough response some of her MPs had wanted to see at the time.

Yet for all the Union Jack-backed bluster, the EU will be pleased that May finally looks like coming up with some answers on the vexed Irish border issue. She announced she would soon “set out our alternative that preserves the integrity of the UK”, something Brussels has been demanding for many months. Don’t forget that what really sparked the EU’s tougher tone yesterday was her bombshell hint, over morning coffee with the Irish PM, that she wanted to park this issue.

Of course, May’s words were not really directed at the EU. Ahead of her party conference next month, she was speaking directly to the 17 million Leave voters to reassure them she really wasn’t bluffing about a ‘no deal’. The key audience, however, will be the 315 Tory MPs she needs to convince to get her plans through Parliament this autumn. And the hardcore Brexiteers are even more ready than Brussels to play the game of ‘Chequers chicken’.

 

R E A C T I O N

 

Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn said May’s negotiating strategy had been a “disaster”.

“The political games from both the EU and our government need to end, because no deal is not an option,” he said.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of the backbench Tory Brexiteers who opposed May’s Chequers plan, praised the prime minister.

“The PM has shown steely resolve at the eleventh hour and is standing up to EU bullies,” he said.

Nigel Dodds, the leader of the pro-Brexit DUP which is propping up May’s government, welcomed her reassurances on the Northern Ireland border issue, but called for her to now “stand up” for the UK’s interests.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who campaigned strongly for Remain, described the PM’s statement as “dreadful” – as she branded the Chequers proposals a “dead duck”.

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) warned a no deal Brexit would put jobs, wages and living standards at risk. 

“The events of the last 24 hours have made one thing abundantly clear – negotiators on both sides must change tack. Rejection of Chequers helps nobody,” the CBI’s director Carolyn Fairbairn said.

 

W H A T   H A P P E N S  N E X T ? 

The prime minister has said the ball is now in the Brussels’ court. The EU has said an agreement needs to be reached by the October 18 EU summit, in order to sign an agreement in November. 

The UK is due to exit the EU in just six months time – on March 29, 2019. And before that, parliament must vote to approve any deal. Meanwhile, many Labour and Tory MPs are demanding the PM hold a referendum on the final agreement.