It’s been a dramatic 24 hours. After speaking to a number of Brexit-backers yesterday, I tried to sum up their mood in one tweet early yesterday evening:
“Imagine FIFA had announced last night that despite England’s victory on the pitch, it will be Sweden who play Croatia in the semi-final. That’s the way a lot of Brexiteers are feeling now: angry and powerless over what they see as an unaccountable elite overriding a clear result.”
Having read my inbox over the weekend (with apologies for not having the capacity to reply to you all individually), I know it’s a sentiment felt by many BrexitCentral readers. It’s also felt by former Labour MP Austin Mitchell who writes for us today about how the British elite is colluding with the European plutocracy. And it turns out that it was also felt by the Brexit Secretary himself, David Davis, news of whose resignation emerged shortly before midnight last night, swiftly followed by that of his DExEU colleague, Steve Baker and – reportedly, though yet to be confirmed – Suella Braverman.
In his explosive resignation letter – the full text of which you can read here – Davis expresses that “the current trend of policy and tactics” is making it look “less and less likely” that the Government will be able to “deliver on the mandate of the referendum, and on our manifesto commitment to leave the Customs Union and the Single Market”. Crucially, he said of the Chequers proposal:
“In my view the inevitable consequence of the proposed policies will be to make the supposed control by Parliament illusory rather than real. As I said at Cabinet, the “common rule book” policy hands control of large swathes of our economy to the EU and is certainly not returning control of our laws in any real sense.”
Yesterday morning had seen the beginning of the government attempt to sell the Chequers proposal to the public. So onto Andrew Marr’s Show went Environment Secretary and Leave campaigner Michael Gove to defend the plan – watch the interview in full here – while Tory Deputy Chairman James Cleverly followed his BrexitCentral article of yesterday with an appearance on BBC1’s Sunday Politics – watch a clip here.
But unsatisfied and unnerved eurosceptic Tory backbenchers were also out in force on the Sunday morning political TV shows. Sir Bill Cash told Sky News’ Ridge on Sunday that “I think people have every reason to be concerned” (watch here), while his colleague Andrew Bridgen on the Sunday Politics said “the offer is so bad that I wouldn’t be supporting it if the EU were paying us” (watch here).
Many commentators had made much over the weekend of the Cabinet unity in favour of the deal and how Theresa May had “kept everyone on board”. Yet I had been struck by the fact that still there had been no public statement of support for the proposal on camera, in writing or even in a tweet from Brexit Secretary David Davis.
More than that, a look at the twitter feeds of every single minister then ensconced at the Department for Exiting the European Union – David Davis, Robin Walker, Steve Baker, Suella Braverman and Lord Callanan – showed that none of the five had expressed backing for the proposal in their own words (Walker was alone among them in having retweeted a Downing Street message posted on Friday night in support of the proposal).
All of which begged the question: if the ministers at the Brexit Department can’t back the Government’s vision for Brexit, how can anyone else? After all, this is the Department supposedly in charge of this week’s forthcoming White Paper based on the proposal – although by all accounts, the Prime Minister’s Brexit negotiator, Olly Robbins, had wrested control of the document in the same way that May had passed control of the negotiations to him from David Davis.
Incidentally, I am still not aware of any public statement of support for the Chequers proposal from Leave-backing Cabinet ministers Boris Johnson and Penny Mordaunt. Should Downing Street take that as an ominous sign?
One of the biggest problems that the resigning ministers will have had with the government position is that unpalatable as they found the Chequers proposal, it is just that, only a proposal – not ‘a deal’ as some have been erroneously calling it over the weekend. It is not the end state, but merely the UK’s opening offer in a negotiation where one would expect some give and take with further concessions to be made to the other side before a deal is struck. Even if some murky agreement had been reached with the EU in advance of its publication – as some have speculated – one surely wouldn’t expect Brussels to accept the UK’s opening offer? As Davis stated in his resignation letter:
“I am also unpersuaded that our negotiating approach will not just lead to further demands for concessions.”
This is a point which I gather was made by several of those 20 or so Tory MPs attending the latest briefing for their benefit with Theresa May’s Chief of Staff, Gavin Barwell, last night. Attendees also expressed a fear that it didn’t pass the ‘doorstep test’ – the ability of an MP to persuade a voter in a matter of seconds after knocking on their door that the Government was staying true to its promises and red lines. And those are red lines which many Tory MPs have publicly and confidently defended as sacrosanct, making it all the harder for them to defend a proposal that they or their voters see as breaching them, if they wish to retain the trust of their own electorates.
The best hope of many despondent Brexiteers I have spoken to now is that Brussels rejects the Chequers offer outright and makes a counter-offer that the Government finds beyond the pale, finally leading them to the conclusion that no deal would indeed be better than a bad deal. The very last element of the Chequers proposal is to step up the preparations for every scenario, i.e. the prospect of a no-deal Brexit, so a flurry of announcements over the coming days and weeks in respect of no-deal preparations is essential if the Prime Minister is to have any hope of retaining the confidence of the Brexiteers in her parliamentary party.
But Downing Street won’t be worrying about the days and weeks ahead right now; the Prime Minister and her entourage will be living from one hour to the next. And even before David Davis announced his resignation, Theresa May had already been dealt another headache to deal with this morning since Jacob Rees-Mogg – Chairman of the influential European Research Group of backbench Tory eurosceptics – has written in today’s Telegraph that “if the proposals are as they currently appear I will vote against them”. He states:
“The Prime Minister often said ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’; the quality of the Chequers proposals make this look a particularly interesting assertion. Sadly, the real problem with Chequers is that it has been driven by those who never thought that leaving the EU was a good idea. It is the ultimate statement of managing decline. It focuses on avoiding risk, not on the world of opportunity outside the EU. Pragmatism has come to mean defeatism.”
So the Prime Minister has a difficult day ahead. Apart from, presumably, appointing new Brexit ministers, today she is expected to face the lion’s den of the House of Commons chamber in order to explain the Chequers proposal to MPs at 3.30pm, before addressing the Conservative parliamentary party at 6pm.