Morning briefing: EU unpicks May's plan - blame game intensifies - summer of no-deal Brexit
Having barely scraped her car crash Chequers plan past MPs, Theresa May finally faces the real challenge - convincing the other 27 EU countries it’s a runner. It already seems clear that this is one Brexit magic trick she won’t be able to pull off.
Ahead of a meeting with new Brexit secretary Dominic Raab, Michel Barnier warned that May’s plan breached “fundamental” EU principles, reports The Times. A senior EU source said there was “deep misunderstanding in some parts of the UK that the EU could bargain on its founding principles”. In private it is understood that Barnier is “unimpressed” by the “cherry-picking” in the Chequers proposal.
In contrast, Raab tried to be upbeat about his “very good, constructive conversation” with Barnier - reminiscent of the blind optimism which characterised his predecessor David Davis’ time at the Brexit department.
Behind the scenes, the UK is being ridiculed for its attempts to translate May’s White Paper into 22 other European languages, as EurActiv reports. Errors included the misspelling of the native words for Finland and Estonia, and a term in the French version suggesting the UK is seeking a “virtuous Brexit”. (Pity the poor translator: the English version says it should be a “principled Brexit”, which is also pretty meaningless.)
Today Europe ministers from all the 27 other countries are meeting in Brussels to give their verdict on May’s plan. Thankfully most speak excellent English, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be able to make head nor tail of it.
So it’s not looking promising across the Channel. But if her plan is rejected, May will need to be careful about offering concessions. Andrea Leadsom has already warned that the Chequers plan must be “the final offer” to the EU.
There is one EU country which matters above all others in this: the Republic of Ireland. Getting a functional “backstop” solution in place for the inner-Irish border before Brexit is now crucial. The White Paper is unhelpful: it simply assumes May’s proposal keeps the border open and gets rid of the need for a backstop. It doesn’t.
May will give a speech in Belfast today insisting it is up to the EU side to change its proposal, because it breaks the Good Friday peace agreement. Several parties in Northern Ireland are unconvinced that her plan is any better, and have released a statement outlining their concerns.
Meanwhile Irish taoiseach Leo Varadkar has warned of the need for Irleand to intensify preparations for a no-deal Brexit, and even called into question the ability of British airlines to fly through Irish airspace if the UK crashes out of the EU.
If the sight of May muddling her Brexit deal through Parliament was a protracted torture, attempts to get it past the other EU countries look set to be short, sharp and brutal. With time and options running out, we need a People’s Vote whatever Brexit outcome the government comes back with.
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Quote of the day
“It seems that there is deep misunderstanding in some parts of the UK that the EU could bargain on its founding principles. Member states feel strongly about the UK asking for changes to the way in which the single market works. There cannot be give and take on that.”
A senior EU source reacting to May’s White Paper, quoted in The Times
Tweet of the day
Brexiter blame game in full swing
One of the key characteristics of leading Brexiters is an unwavering insistence that nothing is their fault. And their favourite scapegoat, as it has been for decades, is the EU. Hence the onslaught against EU leaders in the pro-Brexit press today.
The Sun calls Leo Varadkar an “air head” and “mad” for highlighting the very real possibility that “planes would not fly” if the UK crashes out of single European sky agreements without a Brexit deal. The Mail offers an almighty hatchet job on the “drink sodden world” of European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker. Even The Times runs quotes from a government official concerned about “hostile eurocrat” Martin Selmayr, the Commission’s top civil servant.
Let’s be clear: the reason Brexit isn’t working is because the Brexiters built it on unworkable, contradictory fantasies. And since the referendum they’ve mismanaged it into abject chaos.
Video of the day
WATCH our fortnightly round-up of all the news from the campaign and the world of Brexit. And what a fortnight it's been!
No deal is the worst deal
Theresa May is set to fill our summer holidays with public warnings of what might happen after a no-deal Brexit, reports The Times. Up to 250,000 small businesses are about to be asked to start preparing to make customs declarations for the first time. British holidaymakers are expected to be told to buy health insurance. Other advice could include warnings to avoid disruption at ports and airports, or to start stockpiling food.
The government will no doubt try to play down the grave consequences of no-deal Brexit - a position they’re actively keeping on the negotiating table. But with talks going nowhere, people need to realise what this could mean. And if they don’t want the government gambling with catastrophe, they should get a People’s Vote.
Tweet of the day 2
Shameful saga of chief whip
It’s become clear that Julian Smith, the government’s chief whip, told Conservative MPs to break their “pairing” arrangements for a knife-edge vote on May’s Brexit deal. Pairing ensures that a missed vote due to foreseeable circumstances – in this case, Lib Dem Jo Swinson off on maternity leave with her three-week old child – is cancelled out by an MP on the opposing side not voting. It’s a way of maintaining fairness and integrity in our UK parliamentary democracy.
These are underhand tactics. They might even be called “nasty”. But desperate times for the government lead to desperate actions in the whips office. Carmen Ria Smith analyses the sorry scandal for InFacts here. It’s another sign we need a People’s Vote.
More Brexit news…
Top Brexit comment
Philip Stephens: The week the Brexiters lost control of Brexit (FT £)
Gary Younge: It’s never their fault: why the Brexiteers love to cry betrayal (Guardian)
Paul Mason: Labour’s task is to arm its working class supporters with a narrative of hope (New Statesman)
Today, Friday 20 July
|-||Theresa May visits Northern Ireland|
|09:30||ONS: Public sector finances published|
|10:00||EU27 meeting to discuss May's White Paper|
Tomorrow, Saturday 21 July
|-||People's Vote National Day Action|
|-||G20 finance ministers meeting|