Theresa May’s downfall as Party leader began with the Chequers proposals of the summer before last. The twin pillars of it were, first, a commitment to treating the UK and EU “as if a combined customs territory” and, second, to a “common rulebook” for goods.
Although “Chequers” envisaged “managed divergence” from the EU, the common rulebook idea suggested high alignment. This last proposal eventually made it into the Political Declaration. The EU criticised it at the time it was unveiled, and rebuffed the complicated customs proposal altogether.
David Davis resigned – this site eventually published the Alternative White Paper he had been working on – and Boris Johnson followed. They were the first Brexiteer resignations from May’s Government. She resigned the following spring.
Johnson has always favoured the “Canada Plus Plus Plus” or “Super Canada” idea set out both in Davis’ draft and elsewhere. And the combined customs territory scheme was never going to fly. So it is no surprise that the foundation of his new Brexit plan is getting the UK out of the Customs Union altogether.
A striking aspect of his statement yesterday is that the Conservative Parliamentary Party, plus some of the whipless 21, appears to have waved farewell to high alignment, the Chequers common rulebook proposal, and any variant on EEA membership (Norway-to-Canada; Norway Plus; Common Market 2.0).
Damian Green, David Gauke, Greg Clark, Stephen Hammond: none of these, whether in receipt of the Conservative whip or not, are exactly founder members of the European Research Group.
All spoke; all asked questions of the Prime Minister’s plan; all were about the Northern Ireland dimension. If yesterday’s proceedings are anything to go by, Tory MPs are now, at the least, willing to tolerate a Canada-type settlement in order to get Brexit delivered and, at most, enthusiastic about the prospect.
If the EU rejects Johnson’s proposals altogether, as seems likely, and he then goes on to win a general election, which is possible, expect them to become the next Government’s EU policy norm. And it may just be that the EU is willing to engage with them even now.
If instead the Conservatives go into opposition after an election, and Brexit is revoked, the Party will need a new EU policy. In these circumstances, we think there would be a case for looking anew at EEA membership, but the Party membership is surely more likely to favour a Canada-type approach.
Either way, May’s plan has been dead for some time, and Johnson has now read the funeral rites over it. That Chequers itself is unmourned shouldn’t pass unnoticed.