Mrs May’s Chequers plan was comprehensively rejected by the EU at Salzburg yesterday evening. They might as well have soaked an effigy of Mrs May in petrol, thrown it on the fire and danced around as it burned, their grotesque cackles and screams piercing the night air. But it seems that Mrs May still has not got the message.
Like a stylus needle caught in a groove, a mechanical marvel, the supplicant May emerged from her mauling mouthing the same old liturgy in crackling voice: ‘We will deliver on Brexit … hard work is needed on both sides … Chequers is the only plan on the table … the EU must ‘evolve’ their position’. Bizarrely, May’s hoary old formula has today transmuted into anger. In a statement at Number 10, she pronounced the EU’s rejection of her plan without offering an alternative ‘not acceptable’. Oh dear! Is this vacuous term of disapproval the only verbal weapon in her vocabulary?
Yet the EU has been ‘very clear’ all along: respect the integrity of the single market or get out and negotiate a free trade deal. Barnier has stated it time and time again. In any case, why should the EU even think of ‘evolving’ its position when they have us over a barrel? The government’s carefully stage-managed campaign to discredit at every opportunity the principled position of moving onto world trade rules tells the EU negotiators all they need to know about whether it is serious about walking away with ‘no deal’: May is running scared and is desperate for a deal at any cost.
Under normal circumstances, we could expect Mrs May merely to offer more concessions. We can gain at least some comfort in the knowledge that next week’s Conservative party conference will be a blood bath. But what then? Given the impasse we are now in and the parliamentary arithmetic, would it not be best if there were now a second referendum? Even Nigel Farage has hinted at the possibility. Stay in – or get out on WTO rules and then negotiate a free trade deal.
It’s time for Brexiteers to call their opponents’ bluff.