The dream may have died. The nightmare continues

The dream may have died. The nightmare continues

July 14, 2018 0 By news club

When Theresa May returned to her country retreat at Chequers on Friday, her plan for Brexit was under attack in the House of Commons, in the right-wing press, from Conservative activists around Britain and from her lunch guest, Donald Trump. Seldom has a week been quite such a long time in politics.

A week ago the prime minister left Chequers in triumph after a day-long cabinet meeting that left her Brexiteer ministers apparently vanquished, with Boris Johnson proposing a toast to her over dinner. The cabinet had signed off on May’s proposal for a soft Brexit that would keep the United Kingdom closely aligned with the EU, following European regulations on goods and agrifood.

Backbench Brexiteers had grumbled when leaked extracts of the plan appeared to admit that it would make a trade deal with the United States more difficult. But over the weekend the Brexiteer ministers Michael Gove, Andrea Leadsom and Chris Grayling toured the broadcast studios to defend the Chequers plan as a pragmatic and principled route to realising the 2016 referendum vote.

‘This Government now has the strong stench of Munich about it,’ one Telegraph reader wrote. ‘The Cabinet is largely composed of unreconstructed appeasers’

David Davis’s resignation late on Sunday night was a shock but not a surprise, as the former secretary of state for exiting the European Union had long been unhappy as he was frozen out of negotiations with Brussels by May and her top Brexit adviser, Olly Robbins.

But Johnson’s decision to follow suit was a bombshell, made all the more incendiary by a resignation letter that accused the prime minister of allowing the Brexit dream to die. “Brexit should be about opportunity and hope. It should be a chance to do things differently, to be more nimble and dynamic, and to maximise the particular advantages of the UK as an open, outward-looking global economy. That dream is dying, suffocated by needless self-doubt,” he wrote.

He said the prime minister’s plan would oblige the UK to follow in perpetuity the very European Union directives Eurosceptics have railed against for years, with no influence over their content. “In that respect we are truly headed for the status of colony – and many will struggle to see the economic or political advantages of that particular arrangement. What is even more disturbing is that this is our opening bid. This is already how we see the end state for the UK – before the other side has made its counter-offer. It is as though we are sending our vanguard into battle with the white flags fluttering above them.”

Johnson, who brought in a professional photographer to capture an image of him signing the letter, was reflecting a feeling of betrayal widely shared among Brexiteers on the Conservative backbenches and among the party’s members. For a number of days this week the Daily Telegraph’s letters page was entirely composed of letters about the Chequers plan, almost all of them hostile and many accusing the prime minister of treason.

“This Government now has the strong stench of Munich about it. The Cabinet is largely composed of unreconstructed appeasers. Sadly, there is no Churchill to lead us out of this unlovely swamp,” wrote Richard Skilbeck from Berkshire.

Many other correspondents drew on Munich and the appeasement of Hitler, but this didn’t go far enough for Chris Rome from Thruxton, in Hampshire.

“We no longer have a Chamberlain as our leader but rather, I fear, a Pétain. The Conservative Party will not forgive the knife in the back of the British people wielded by Mrs May but forged by her ‘advisers’,” he wrote.

While some backbench Brexiteers made noises about throwing May overboard, most calculated that any such attempt was destined to fail. It takes just 15 per cent of Conservative MPs – which means 48 in the current parliament – to trigger a confidence vote in the party leader but more than 50 per cent – or at least 159 – to win it, and Downing Street made clear on Monday that May would fight any challenge to her leadership. If she won such a vote she could not be challenged for another 12 months, by which time the UK is already due to be out of the EU.

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