Will Mrs May’s strict approach force ministers to fall in line or merely provoke rebellion from class clown Boris and his rabble of sniggering sympathisers?
Chequers, an enormous country house of “peace and ancient memories” in Buckinghamshire, was gifted to England by its American owners in 1921 to serve as a “place of rest and recreation for her Prime Ministers for ever“. Today’s meeting there, though, will be less about ‘rest’, and more about ‘forever’ as cabinet ministers won’t be allowed to leave until they reach an agreement on how Britain should leave the EU.
Ministers will reportedly have their phones confiscated on arrival – preventing potential Kremlin eavesdropping and sneaky Whatsapp group-chatting is high on the agenda – and attendees won’t get their devices back until at least 10pm. No checking at lunch either.
Will this hardline approach from May, likened to that of a “strict headteacher” by ITV’s Robert Peston, force ministers to fall in line or merely provoke rebellion from class clown Boris and his rabble of sniggering sympathisers?
With the March 2019 deadline fast approaching, it’s imperative that Theresa May unites her cabinet on the best approach to Brexit so the country can push on with Brussels negotiations.
The PM has said of the Chequers summit that “We have an opportunity and a duty to agree a blueprint for Brexit”. Mrs May will hope she won’t have to deviate too far from her own Brexit proposal which is 120 pages long and provides a close alignment with EU rules on many goods but not services.
It also proposes to put an end to the free movement of people within the EU, which is a key demand of the Brexiteers within the cabinet.
David Lidington, Minister for the cabinet office said of the meeting that “I think it’ll be a full and open discussion as you’d expect amongst colleagues. But I think that there’ll be a wish on everybody’s part to get to an agreement”.
He hopes the agreement will also offer a “deep” and “enduring” partnership “on economic issues, on trade with our European neighbours”.
At least 7 Brexiteer cabinet ministers are expected to form opposition to May’s proposal. They met at the foreign office last night “to discuss tactics”, perhaps in anticipation of May’s phone confiscation.
The BBC’s Alex Forsyth has said that among those at the retreat, “there is deep division”. She added that “in Westminster, details of what the Prime Minister is proposing have trickled out in recent days”.
Peter Bone, Conservative MP and Brexiteer, is worried that the proposal will stick too closely to current EU regulation, at the detriment of trade with the rest of the world. The “common rulebook” as he describes it, seems to “cross the line on two accounts. One, you’re not making your own rules in your own country, you’re accepting what the EU tells you. And, that the ultimate court would be the European court of justice”.
Meanwhile, in Brussels, EU Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier has said that “the single market is our main economic public good. We’ll not damage it. We’ll not unravel what we have achieved with the UK”.
Whatever agreement the Conservatives reach however, (an agreement the shadow Brexit minister Kier Starmer feels is in risk of being merely a Tory cabinet truce instead of a deal in the country’s best interests) it will in turn have to be negotiated with the EU. It’s going to be a tense night for Theresa May and the Conservatives, but a tense 8 months for the country as a whole as it awaits the EU severance date in March 2019.