Despite the change of personnel in Theresa May’s Cabinet when David Davis and Boris Johnson resigned over her “Chequers” proposal, there has been very little progress with the gridlocked Brexit negotiations over the summer. As both Westminster and the European Parliament return from the summer recess, Michel Barnier has finally pointed out, to nobody’s surprise, that the Chequers proposal is unworkable, possibly illegal under WTO rules, and does not bridge the gap between the UK and EU on some of the most fundamental areas of disagreement, namely the Irish Border and practical trade arrangements.
Theresa May and replacement Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab have asked the EU27 to delay rejecting it out of hand, purely to save face until after the Conservative Party conference at the end of September. May’s latest wheeze is to create a false choice between a bad deal (amended Chequers) and a no-deal Brexit.
But time is running out for these calamitous negotiations. Both sides have privately admitted that it is extremely unlikely that there will be an agreement in time for the mid-October meeting of the European Council (the 28 heads of government). There is talk of an extraordinary meeting in November solely to finalise the Brexit plans. Two years since the referendum, and Theresa May still has not found a way of negotiating successfully with her own party, much less the EU27.
While Tory divisions seem as irreconcilable as ever, Labour has reconfirmed that it will vote against any form of Brexit that does not meet its six tests. More recently, Keir Starmer and John McDonnell have stated that the option of a second referendum should ‘not be taken off the table’. Many CLPs (including several in Yorkshire) have tabled motions for party conference to explicitly commit Labour to a referendum on the final Brexit deal. Support nationally for such a “People’s Vote” is increasing, with opinion polls showing it has majority support.