Unless there is a clever plan, a happy Brexit summit today is unlikely
Not for the first time since the Brexit referendum of June 2016, today is set to be one of a number of days after that vote in which it can plausibly be said that we are at a turning point in British history.
The cabinet meets at Chequers, to see whether it can agree Theresa May’s plan for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union.
The British negotiation has been pretty disastrous since last June, when the prime minister failed to win an overall majority in the general election.
Outwardly, Mrs May’s rhetoric has been as if nothing happened that day. Gradually, however, the UK has made concession after concession to Brussels.
Most of these concessions have, until now, been comparatively minor: on the departure bill, on the transition period, on migrants’ residency rights.
But the big decisions have been deferred. Today it will become clearer whether Britain is truly leaving the single market and customs union. The PM insists we will, but the important question is whether the UK will in a meaningful way be free from their constraints. The customs union is the more burdensome of the two, because, among other problems, it would stop the UK doing its own trade.
Last night the DUP put out an alarming statement reminding the PM not to create a “hybrid status” for NI. This raises fears that she is considering such a thing in her anxiety.
Last night Brexiteer ministers including Boris Johnson, David Davis, Michael Gove, Liam Fox, Esther McVey, Penny Mordaunt and Andrea Leadsom were said to be holding talks ahead of the Chequers showdown.
Either of these developments — the DUP statement or the Brexiteer meeting — could be a sign of a rupture today that brings down the government. And even if that extreme outcome is avoided, it is hard to see a happy ending to things, unless a clever plan has somehow been kept under wraps.