Endgame could tear Tory party apart

by Hugo Dixon | 19.09.2017

Boris Johnson’s biggest beef is over the final Brexit deal, not the transition immediately after quitting the EU. If Theresa May veers towards a “Swiss-style” deal, The Telegraph says he’ll resign from the cabinet.

Even if the prime minister ducks the question of the endgame in her speech in Florence on Friday, she won’t be able to avoid it forever. Her problem is there’s no good answer. Whichever way she goes, she risks tearing the Conservative Party apart.

According to the Telegraph, Johnson is pushing for a deal similar to the one negotiated between Canada and the EU. He’s backed by Michael Gove. Meanwhile, the Chancellor Philip Hammond, supported by Home Secretary Amber Rudd, wants a Swiss-style arrangement. May seems to be sitting on the fence. She said yesterday, at a press conference coincidentally in Canada, that it wasn’t a “binary choice” and that Britain would pursue its own bespoke deal.

There isn’t yet an official government position. Rachel Sylvester writes in today’s Times that “there has been no substantive cabinet discussion on our future relationship with the EU.” Meanwhile, Henry Newman, director of Open Europe, wrote on Conservative Home yesterday: “I’ve spoken to dozens of senior officials, ministers and advisers. None have disagreed with my fundamental concern: that the Government has not yet decided what sort of country we ought to be after Brexit.”

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The prime minister is holding a special cabinet meeting on Thursday to try to thrash out a common line on the government’s Brexit strategy. But it would be surprising if she got very far on the endgame. This isn’t just because May is extraordinarily weak or even because she is a natural ditherer. The fundamental problem is that there is no good endgame.

The Swiss model could give us reasonable access to the EU’s market but at the cost of turning us from one of Europe’s most influential rule-makers into a rule-taker. We would also have to pay money to the EU and agree to free movement. We would be losing, not taking control.

Meanwhile, a Canada-style deal would badly damage the economy. Canada, for example, gets precious little access to the EU’s financial services market and has to pay tariffs on agricultural exports.

May will struggle to get her party to unite behind either model, which is no doubt why she is clinging to the idea of a bespoke deal. That’s her version of Johnson’s cake-and-eat-it approach.

But the prime minister will eventually have to face reality on the endgame, just as she has been forced to accept the need for a transition. At that point, pro-Europeans need to proclaim boldly that there is, indeed, a way of having our cake and eating it. We can be both a rule-maker and keep full access to the EU’s market by cancelling Brexit and staying in the club.

Edited by Sam Ashworth-Hayes

3 Responses to “Endgame could tear Tory party apart”

  • I wish the Tory Party would hurry up and split itself asunder. This whole nonsense began as a Tory Party squabble and it remains so today, but in the process they have managed to create an international crisis out of their internal squabbling.