There is an almost universal acceptance among the British and international press that the so-called Chequers’ deal proposed by the United Kingdom premier, Theresa May, to manage her country’s orderly withdrawal from the European Union and its post-Brexit relations with its former partners is a complete mess. Depending on your view, the plan is either: a massive fudge based on a precarious in-and-out compromise by London which satisfies no one; an act of political and economic capitulation to Brussels, crafted by a kitchen cabinet of soft Leavers and even softer Remainers; or a clever ruse to fool the EU into accepting an agreement that the UK can freely renege on – or at least push out of shape – further down the line.
The first two interpretations seem to be in the majority, most obviously among those government ministers in Britain who resigned in protest at the Prime Minster’s solution to the country’s current diplomatic woes. While David Davis and Boris Johnson, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union and the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs respectively, both disagreed with May, the former blamed wrongheaded advice and a strategy with the potential for economic and regulatory turmoil, while the latter implied an almost treasonous failure of leadership which will result in Britain being subservient to its Continental neighbours.
Interestingly, the British Labour Party has shown more interest in exploiting the confusion in Tory ranks than proposing something substantive of its own as an alternative way forward. With the polls showing an uptick in its possible electoral fortunes, and with some in the party lacking any great enthusiasm for the country’s continued membership of the European Union as currently constituted, one gets the distinct impression that on this matter neither of the two establishment parties in the United Kingdom are capable of putting the square peg into the round hole.
Then we have this, from Sky News:
Former prime minister Tony Blair and his political ally Lord Mandelson have joined Tory Brexiteers in trashing Theresa May’s strategy for leaving the EU.
In an article published via his institute, Mr Blair… called on parliament to “reject this solution decisively”.
“This solution – half in/half out – won’t work, won’t end the argument and will simply mean a confused outcome in which we continue to abide by Europe’s rules whilst losing our say over them,” he wrote.
Lord Mandelson, a former EU commissioner, joined the attack on Mrs May’s plan and branded the proposals as “less like a soft Brexit than a national humiliation”, adding: “It is the polar opposite of taking back control.”
In an article for The Observer newspaper, in which he also voiced his support for a second EU referendum, the Labour peer said: “You are drawn to the conclusion that it would be better to be fully in the economic structures of the EU or out of them altogether…”
By rejecting the prime minister’s plan, Mr Blair and Lord Mandelson have formed an unlikely alliance with Tory Brexiteers, who are also calling on Mrs May to change course.
Some in Labour clearly smell political blood in the air, but if the proposed EU-UK deal is rejected in the coming weeks the most likely outcome is still one where Britain crashes out of Europe, with all the domestic and international rancour and trouble such an event would incur. The current British opposition under Jeremy Corbyn might then gain power in a post-withdrawal election. But what effect will a hard Brexit have had on the country’s relations with its neighbours in the meantime? And more particularly, on its increasingly restless colonial territory on the island of Ireland? Or do any of these concerns feature in the wider or longer term thinking of London’s bickering and faction-ridden political parties?