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27 July 2018

As Michel Barnier rules out the Chequers deal, what’s next for Theresa May’s Brexit?

It's difficult to see how, given that Chequers in its current form is unlikely to secure enough support from Tory MPs, a softer follow-up version will do either.

By Stephen Bush

RIP the Chequers deal, you are with the angels now? Michel Barnier has said that the European Union “cannot and will not” allow the United Kingdom to collect duties on behalf of EU member states – killing a key plank of Theresa May’s proposed facilitated customs arrangement. 

Well, it depends on your perspective on the Chequers proposal: was it a serious document intended to illustrate what the actual EU-UK final relationship will look like or is it merely a stepping post on the way to a softer Brexit? What Barnier has actually said is not that something called a customs arrangement is dead – but simply that it will have to be part of the EU’s governance structures. 

The trouble for May is that Barnier’s remarks underline that Chequers – already causing ructions among Conservative activists – is going to have to undergo a number of changes if it is to become a workable arrangement between the United Kingdom and the European Union. It’s difficult to see how, given that Chequers in its current form is unlikely to secure enough support from Conservative MPs, the inevitable I Can’t Believe It’s Not Chequers final agreement will do either.

Don’t forget that MPs don’t simply jet off for a month-long holiday: they also spend time in their constituencies getting an earful from party members. It’s more likely than not that Conservative doubts about Chequers will have hardened rather than softened when parliament returns in September. 

I have a number of doubts about a vote on the terms of the deal: given that parliament cannot agree on the terms of exit, I am dubious that it could agree on anything to do with the franchise, rules or terms of another referendum vote. But May very badly needs some device, event or crisis to shift the balance of forces at Westminster – and if not a second vote, then what?

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