From the flurry of joint op-eds from Cabinet Ministers today, you might be forgiven for thinking that the Chequers deal is the deal. But, of course, it is not. Rather, it is the UK’s government opening position in the negotiation on the future relationship. So, logically, you would expect the government to have to make more concessions.
The problem for the ministerial Brexiteers is that what the EU is likely to demand will make the deal much more difficult to defend. Take, for instance, parliament’s role in having to pass any changes to the so-called ‘common rulebook’ between the UK and the EU. Number 10 likes to talk about this as a ‘parliamentary lock’ on any changes that could be detrimental to the UK. On Marr this morning, Michael Gove was emphasising how this provision would allow the UK to diverge in future in areas where it was in the UK’s interest to do so.
But the problem is that if the EU is prepared to engage with May’s plan, it will--almost certainly--want a guillotine clause in the deal. This would mean that if the UK broke away from the ‘common rulebook’ for goods and agri-foods in any area at all, the whole deal would fall. This would mean that the UK couldn’t use this route to pursue ‘managed divergence’.
Second, given what the EU dislikes about its arrangement with Switzerland, it is bound to demand some mechanism to ensure that any changes to EU rules in these areas are automatically transposed into UK law. They won’t want a situation where they must wait for the Commons to debate and approve every change to this ‘common rulebook’.
If May gives way in these areas, then the deal becomes much more difficult to defend intellectually. This is even before you get onto the question of what the EU will push for on migration / free movement.
At Chequers, Theresa May blurred her red lines. In a lawyerly way, you can argue that she hasn’t crossed any of them yet. The challenge for her, though, is that everything the EU will push for from now on will make it harder for her to say that she hasn’t breached her red lines.
This weekend, I have a feeling that the real Brexit drama is yet to come.