May’s Chequers proposal continues to get mixed reviews

May’s Chequers proposal continues to get mixed reviews

It’s almost 36 hours since ministers were reunited with their mobile phones at the end of the day-long summit and yet the most prominent Cabinet Brexiteers – David Davis, Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Liam Fox – have all kept their powder dry ever since (aside from the Foreign Secretary’s “It’s Coming Home” tweet yesterday afternoon).

This morning Fox breaks his silence with a joint article with Home Secretary Sajid Javid in the Sun on Sunday while Gove also puts on a united front with Business Secretary Greg Clark in the Mail on Sunday – and imminently he will be doing an interview on Andrew Marr’s BBC1 show. In the meantime Theresa May herself was doing media interviews yesterday in a bid to explain to the wider public what has been agreed. Click here to watch what she told the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg and click here to watch ITV’s Robert Peston’s report on what she had to say to him.

The Prime Minister was given something of a boost yesterday morning when the DUP Leader at Westminster, Nigel Dodds, said the Government’s commitment at Chequers “to the political and constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom with no borders between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom is a welcome reaffirmation of what is an absolute priority for us”. But he added that he and his colleagues would be “examining and measuring the fine print” of the forthcoming White Paper against the “clear objectives” of “control of our borders, our laws and our money”.

Interviewed for Radio 4’s Week in Westminster by the FT‘s George Parker, Tory MP and 1990s Maastricht rebel Sir Bernard Jenkin said that he too needed to see the detail of the proposal, but conceded that the parliamentary arithmetic poses a huge challenge since “the British people voted Leave, but the bulk of British politicians are Remain”. He added that ever since the referendum Brexiteers have been wrestling with “this collision between representative democracy and direct democracy” with the issue now being “whether these solutions [agreed at Chequers] are sufficiently mindful of the sovereign decision the British people took to leave the EU”. Click here to listen.

But critics of the Chequers proposal have also continued to make their feelings known in no uncertain terms. Last night it emerged that an explosive 18-page critique of the plan written by eminent QC and BrexitCentral author Martin Howe had been circulating amongst eurosceptic backbench Tories, since when Howe has posted it in full on the website of Lawyers for Britain, which he chairs.

Howe concludes that under the proposal we would be headed for “a worst-of-all-worlds ‘Black Hole’ Brexit where the UK is stuck permanently as a vassal state in the EU’s legal and regulatory tar-pit, still has to obey EU laws and ECJ rulings across vast areas, cannot develop an effective international trade policy or adapt our economy to take advantage of the freedoms of Brexit, and has lost its vote and treaty veto rights as an EU Member State”. While he believes that these proposal will not be accepted by the EU “since in their perception they amount to unacceptable ‘cherry picking’ of the ‘benefits’ of the single market”, he fears that Brussels will keep the UK negotiating for so long that when time runs down, the EU will then demand “huge last minute concessions in return for not taking away the transition period”. Click here to read the document for yourself.

Former Cabinet Minster Iain Duncan Smith raises his serious concerns about the impact the proposals would have on the country’s ability to strike meaningful trade deals in The Sun on Sunday, while backbench Tory MP Andrew Bridgen declares it “nothing short of a betrayal” in the Mail on Sunday.

Also outspoken in her criticism has been Morley and Outwood Tory MP Andrea Jenkyns, who told LBC that the devil will be in the detail and that not only would she be prepared to vote against it but if the detail was as bad as she had thus far heard, she’d be prepared to submit a letter to 1922 Committee Chairman Sir Graham Brady calling for a vote of no confidence in Theresa May.

Yesterday saw the first in a series of briefings for Conservative MPs in Whitehall with Government Chief Whip, Julian Smith, and Theresa May’s Chief of Staff, Gavin Barwell, taking them through the proposal in further details (and further such meetings will take place during the week, while Tory peers have been invited to one such session in Parliament tomorrow lunchtime). Duncan Smith, Bridgen and Jenkyns were not in attendance at yesterday’s session, but among those there was Brexit-backing right-winger James Cleverly, now the Conservative Party Deputy Chairman, who told the media afterwards:

“There are elements of that which I think will massively calm the nerves of people who have been basing their views on the speculation that has been floating around in the media and social media… I went in there with some concerns as a Brexiteer and I come out with those concerns addressed.”

This morning he sets out his feelings for BrexitCentral, admitting that there has had to be a degree of compromise on the part of Brexiteers, but that the big three issues which he believes underpinned the Brexit vote – sovereignty, immigration control and money – will all be honoured. He asserts that now is the time for Brussels to show some flexibility in its response. Click here to read his piece.

As to the choreography for the coming days, I gather Theresa May will be delivering a statement to the Commons tomorrow afternoon on the Chequers proposal before addressing a meeting of Tory MPs early tomorrow evening. It is now anticipated that the 120-page White Paper will be published on Thursday, at which point David Davis will present it to MPs with a statement in the Commons.