Critics ‘chuck rocks from both sides’ at May’s Brexit plans

Former British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson slammed Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit policy in a newspaper column, heightening speculation that he plans to challenge her leadership. (File photo / AP)
Updated 03 September 2018

Critics ‘chuck rocks from both sides’ at May’s Brexit plans

  • Johnson wrote in the Daily Telegraph that May’s so-called Chequers plan would leave Britain tethered to the bloc
  • May’s spokesman said Johnson’s opposition to the plan was well known, and there were ‘no new ideas to respond to’

LONDON: Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit strategy means disaster for Britain, her former foreign secretary Boris Johnson said, as critics at home and officials in Brussels stepped up their opposition to her plans for how to leave the European Union.
With under two months before Britain and the EU want to agree a deal to end over 40 years of union, May is struggling to sell what she calls her business-friendly Brexit to her own party and across a divided country.
The prospect that she could fail to reach a deal that would carry parliament at home, and that Britain could potentially crash out of the EU in March with no deal in place at all, has worried financial markets. The pound weakened by more than 0.7 percent against the euro on Monday to 90.28 pence, notching up its biggest daily loss in more than three months. Against the dollar it fell by a similar margin to $1.2859.
May’s former deputy, Damian Green, described her government as “walking a narrow path with people chucking rocks from both sides” after Johnson, a potential successor to May, and other Conservative lawmakers attacked the so-called Chequers plan.
“In adopting the Chequers proposals, we have gone into battle with the white flag fluttering over our leading tank. If we continue on this basis we will throw away most of the advantages of Brexit,” Johnson wrote in the Daily Telegraph newspaper on Monday. “People can see Chequers means disaster.”
The plan, named for the prime minister’s country residence where it was agreed by the cabinet in July, calls for free trade between Britain and the EU in manufactured and agricultural goods, with Britain accepting regulations over traded goods that align with EU rules.
The government says it is the only way to achieve Brexit without harming the economy. But opponents on both sides of the Brexit debate have criticized it for offering either too sharp a rupture with the EU, or a break that is not clean enough.
Johnson, one of the leading pro-Brexit campaigners during the referendum that secured Britain’s 2016 vote to leave, quit May’s cabinet days after the Chequers plan was approved.
“We will remain in the EU taxi; but this time locked in the boot, with absolutely no say on the destination,” he wrote in Monday’s column, criticizing the plan for regulatory alignment.
Nor is the EU itself on board. Chief EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier criticized the proposal in a German newspaper on Sunday as trying to secure advantages of EU membership without taking on its responsibilities.
“If we let the British pick the raisins out of our rules, that would have serious consequences. Then all sorts of other third countries could insist that we offer them the same benefits. That would be the end of the single market and the European project,” he said.
May’s spokesman said the Chequers deal was the only credible and negotiable plan for Brexit and the government believed it could carry the support of parliament.
“There’s no new ideas in (Johnson’s) article to respond to. What we need at this time is serious leadership with a serious plan, and that is exactly what the country has with this Prime Minister and this Brexit plan,” the spokesman told reporters.
The Times newspaper reported 20 Conservative lawmakers were now backing a grassroots ‘StandUp4Brexit’ campaign, committing to opposing the Chequers plan.
Parliament returns from its summer break on Tuesday. May has a working majority of just 13 votes and has pledged to give lawmakers approval of the final deal with Brussels.
Conservative lawmaker and former government minister Nick Boles, who during the referendum backed remaining in the EU and now wants to stay in the single market on an interim basis while negotiating a “Better Brexit” free trade deal, said he didn’t think May had enough support for her proposals.
Asked during an interview on BBC Radio what the chances were of getting her proposals through parliament, he said: “Very, very small, as close to zero as anything in politics.”
British media have reported Brexit-supporting Conservative lawmakers are preparing to unveil an alternative plan before the party’s annual conference at the end of the month.

Labour set to vote against Brexit deal, open to second referendum

Opposition Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn, left, and Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry during the third day of the Labour party conference in Liverpool Tuesday. (AFP)
Updated 34 min 28 sec ago

Labour set to vote against Brexit deal, open to second referendum

  • If Theresa May brings back a deal that does not meet our tests — and that looks increasingly likely — Labour will vote against her deal
  • Starmer said May was on course to fail these tests

LIVERPOOL: Britain’s opposition Labour Party is set to vote against any deal Prime Minister Theresa May clinches with the European Union and is open to a second referendum with the option of staying in the bloc, Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer said on Tuesday.

With just over six months until Britain leaves the EU, May has yet to reach a deal on the terms of the divorce, and her plan for future trade ties has been rebuffed by both the EU and many lawmakers in her own Conservative Party.

Labour has listed six tests it would apply to any Brexit deal, including whether it ensured a strong future relationship with the EU and delivered the same benefits Britain has as a member of its single market and customs union.

Starmer said May was on course to fail these tests.

He called for an election to allow a Labour government to steer Britain’s departure from the EU, the biggest shift in the country’s foreign and trade policy in decades.

“If Theresa May brings back a deal that does not meet our tests — and that looks increasingly likely — Labour will vote against her deal,” he told Labour members at the party’s conference in the northern city of Liverpool.

He repeated Labour’s argument that if Parliament rejected May’s Chequers deal, named after the prime minister’s country residence where she hashed out a plan with her ministers, the party would press for a general election.

“But if we need to break the impasse our options must include campaigning for a public vote and nobody is ruling out remain as an option,” he said to a standing ovation and prolonged applause in a packed conference hall.

The Conservative Party’s chairman, Brandon Lewis, accused Labour of breaking “their promises” and taking “us back to square one on Brexit.” 

The EU indicated officials in Brussels saw a new referendum as a complication rather than a solution.

“That does not sound like a solution to anything. The first referendum is still keeping us busy. And will they want to have a third one in another two years?” asked a senior EU diplomat in Brussels. “It’s more about power struggles in Britain than about managing Brexit seriously.”

But with May’s plan for maintaining close ties with the EU for trade in goods facing opposition from her own lawmakers, Labour could play a decisive role in whether any Brexit deal is approved by parliament.

May has a working majority of just 13 in the 650-seat parliament and a former junior minister said this month as many as 80 of her own lawmakers were prepared to vote against a Brexit deal based on the Chequers plan.

But like the governing Conservatives and much of the country, Labour is split over how to leave the bloc, with its veteran euroskeptic leader, Jeremy Corbyn, under pressure from many members to move to a more pro-EU position.

Brendan Chilton, general secretary of Brexit campaigning group Labour Leave, accused Starmer of launching a leadership bid and of trying to undermine Corbyn.

“This is a betrayal of the very highest order. It is a betrayal not only of the millions of Labour voters, but of our 2017 manifesto,” he said, referring to the party’s campaign at last year’s election that gained Labour more votes than many expected.

Labour’s conference will vote later on Tuesday on keeping a second Brexit referendum as an option if May fails to get her Brexit plan through parliament.

In the published motion which the Labour conference will debate later on Tuesday, the party again set out is position on Brexit — it wants full participation in the EU’s single market after Brexit and will reject a “no deal Brexit.” 

The wording on a possible second referendum was left vague, opening the way for some to describe it as a fudge when the party’s finance spokesman, John McDonnell, said any such vote should be on how to leave the EU, not whether to do so.

But Starmer was clear. He understood that the motion could allow Britain to vote to stay in the EU.

“This isn’t about frustrating the process,” he said. “It’s about stopping a destructive Tory Brexit. It’s about fighting for our values and about fighting for our country.”