Brexit talks appear headed for an impasse as both Theresa May and Brussels’ chief negotiator Michel Barnier said they would give no ground over their opposing visions for the future of UK-EU relations.
The Prime Minister said she would not compromise on the Brexit plan set out at Chequers earlier this year, even as Mr Barnier said it would spell “the end of the single market and the European project”.
Mrs May also faces a fight to push her vision for Brexit through parliament as MPs return this week, with Tories on both sides of the issue attacking the Chequers plan.
Former Brexit secretary David Davis said the blueprint which triggered his Cabinet resignation was “actually almost worse than being in [the EU]”, while the Remain-voting former minister Nick Boles said it would lead to “the humiliation of a deal dictated by Brussels”.
Meanwhile, it has been reported that the election strategist behind numerous Conservative election campaigns, including David Cameron’s general election and Boris Johnson’s London mayoral victories, has launched a bid to scupper the Cabinet’s Chequers compromise.
Sir Lynton Crosby, who also advised Mrs May in last year’s general election, is manoeuvring to derail the Prime Minister’s EU withdrawal agenda with a co-ordinated national campaign, according to one Sunday newspaper.
Yesterday the Prime Minister ruled out a referendum on the terms of the UK’s deal with Brussels and said she would not be “pushed into accepting compromises on the Chequers proposals that are not in our national interest”.
However, the pledge was dismissed by Mr Davis as a “an incredible ‘open sesame’” to Brussels.
“I’d vote against it,” Mr Davis said. “The Chequers proposal … is actually almost worse than being in. We will be under the rule of the EU with respect to all of our manufactured goods and agri-foods.
“That’s a really serious concession. What about ‘Take Back Control’? It doesn’t work. That actually leaves us in a position where they dictate our future rules without us having a say at all.”
The Chequers plan also came under attack from Mr Boles, in a sign that Mrs May would struggle to assemble a Commons majority for a Brexit deal based on it without support from Labour.
In another Sunday newspaper, Mr Boles wrote: “Meetings with key supporters in my constituency have brought home to me the dismay that many voters feel at what the Prime Minister is proposing. I have concluded that I must put my country first.”
He called for the UK to remain part of the European Free Trade Agreement after Brexit until a bespoke trade deal could be reached.
Meanwhile, in an interview with a German newspaper, Mr Barnier said he was “strongly opposed” to key parts of Mrs May’s proposals for a post-withdrawal trade deal.
The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator said a suggested “common rulebook” for goods would kill the European project.
He said: “We have a coherent market for goods, services, capital and people – our own ecosystem that has grown over decades. You cannot play with it by picking pieces.”
He added: “If we let the British cherry pick which of our regulations to follow, that would have serious consequences: all sorts of other third countries could insist that we offer them the same deal.
“That would be the end of the single market and the European project.
“I am often accused of being dogmatic in the UK, but the truth is I’m only protecting our fundamental interests.”
He warned that the Prime Minister’s proposal to effectively keep the UK in the EU single market for goods alone would fail because “there are services in every product”, making trade in many products impossible.
“In your mobile phone, for example, it is 20 per cent to 40 per cent of the total value,” Mr Barnier said. He also told EU car makers they would have to use fewer British parts after Brexit in order to keep to tariff export rules.
There were fresh Cabinet tensions yesterday as the International Trade Secretary, Liam Fox took another swipe at Chancellor Philip Hammond for highlighting government analysis suggesting UK GDP could fall by almost 10 per cent over 15 years without a Brexit deal.
Mr Fox said in a TV interview: “Can you think back in all your time in politics where the Treasury have made predictions that were correct 15 years out? I can’t … this idea that we can predict what our borrowing would be 15 years in advance is just a bit hard to swallow.”
Responding to the Prime Minister’s rejection of a referendum on the Brexit terms, Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable said Chequers was “dead” and Mrs May was “rattled” by the “movement” for a new vote on EU membership.
Sir Vince said: “Government ministers are telling us that we have a 50 per cent chance of dropping out of the EU and falling off a cliff. Meanwhile the only person who still supports the Chequers deal is the Prime Minister. The deal is dead.”