Chequers plan should not be basis of further compromise

The recently appointed foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt has been warning Brussels that a No Deal Brexit would damage UK relations with Europe for a generation.

Tuesday, 24th July 2018, 1:15 pm
Updated Tuesday, 24th July 2018, 1:19 pm
Morning View

Mr Hunt said that the only person to benefit from a collapse in the talks would be the Russian president Vladimir Putin. If there was no change in the approach of EU negotiators, he said, the prospects of No Deal were very real.

These comments might raise awareness among some influential people in places such as Berlin, where he was speaking, about the risks of Britain crashing out. But at the same time they add to a sense that London has a fearful approach to the talks that now includes appealing to people’s better nature. This is a problem when the EU has been tough in the negotiations, and has bagged the concessions from London.

This cannot go any further. The Chequers plan is a major compromise, too much of a compromise for many (perhaps most) supporters of Brexit.

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Some pundits think that the EU will treat this as an opening bid and make many more demands. If that is so, the UK must be genuinely prepared to walk away. Such a situation will be grim but if, as an alternative, Britain capitulates to a form of Brexit that is worse than staying in the EU, no-one will be happy and it will trigger years of dispute.

Meanwhile, the Scottish Secretary of State David Mundell has said leaving the EU with no deal would be preferable to breaking up the Union. He said he will not accept an arrangement that “threatens the integrity of the UK” such as the EU interpretation of the so-called backstop on the Irish border.

It is encouraging to hear a cabinet minister speaking in this way but it is puzzling therefore that the government has seemingly toyed with agreeing some backstop on terms demanded by the EU, on the basis that it will never be needed.

This would be illogical and a clear sign to the EU of the sort of fearfulness that has characterised the British negotiating tactics to date. The government should dispel such a notion.