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21 September 2018

No deal Brexit is the most likely outcome if the balance of political power doesn’t change

And even another election may not be enough.

By Stephen Bush

Chequers is dead. (Again.) European heads of government have declared Theresa May’s proposals dead in the water in no uncertain terms. (Also, again.) 

The only question that mattered about Chequers was always whether May regarded it as a final offer or a direction of travel that would be further amended to return to Parliament as something that looked a bit like Chequers, provided you were willing to squint a bit. 

What drove the more vituperative tone of yesterday’s attacks on May’s plan from Donald Tusk, Emmanuel Macron et. al was that the PM made it clear that she regards Chequers as a final offer. As I explain in the i, it’s not only Chequers that lies slain: the big delusion that the United Kingdom can get its way in Europe via divide and rule, and that a better deal could be reached by going around Michel Barnier have also been killed off. 

So what happens next? The calculation that most of the EU27 are making is that the British negotiating position is so weak that the United Kingdom can be shunted into an EEA-type single market and customs union relationship which resolves the Irish border and maintains the current level of market access.

Their analysis – and indeed the analysis that many in British business have comforted themselves with – is that in a head-on collision, there are two types of participants: swerving participants, who cannot survive a collision so swerve to avoid one, and non-swerving participants, who can survive and therefore keep on going forward. The British motorbike can’t survive the head-on collision with the monster lorry that is the EU27, so the government will, at the last, pull out of the way. That’s the theory anyway.

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The problem is that much of the British political elite doesn’t accept the premise: they don’t think this a collision between a motorbike and a monster lorry. They see it as a collision between two vehicles of equal weight. 

That’s one reason why no deal is still the most likely outcome barring a major shift in the balance of political forces here at home, which even another election may not provide.