I don't know about anyone else, but I've been rubbing my eyes in disbelief over the last few hours. If you've been listening to the mainstream media's verdict on what was agreed at Chequers, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the fabled Brexit deal that Theresa May has been tasked with striking needed only to be a deal with the rest of her own Cabinet, and not with the European Union. By that rather lower standard, what's just happened might indeed be seen as a stunning personal triumph for the Prime Minister and a guarantee of a (somewhat) softer Brexit, exactly as Stormfront Lite is claiming tonight. The agreement will only be subject to a few modifications if Brussels raises any objections, reveals the Guardian, which apparently believes that the EU has only a limited consultative role in the whole process. It's the old imperial delusion - decisions are things that happen in London. The same commentators who complacently tell us that an indyref is a non-starter because Theresa May will say "no" also apparently believe that it's a mere point of trivia that the EU have already ruled out many elements of May's Brexit proposal. Back in the real world, without the EU's assent there is no deal at all, and that would mean the hardest of hard Brexits.
A rare injection of realism was provided by Sam Coates of the Times, who acknowledged that the EU may well still insist on a straight choice between a looser Canada-type deal, and the Norway model that would entail the retention of the single market. But he argued that the Chequers proposal was around 80% of the way towards the Norway model, thus making it that much easier for the Prime Minister to jump towards Norway if forced to choose. What he didn't expand on is the consequence of such a decision. It's highly debatable whether the government really are now 80% of the way towards Norway, but even assuming for the sake of argument that they are, the reason they haven't travelled the remaining 20% of the distance is that doing so would completely breach the red lines on formally leaving the single market and ending freedom of movement. Some say that a soft Brexit is inevitable because there is a natural parliamentary majority for it - but that majority is cross-party in nature, and neither the government nor the Prime Minister are sustained in office on a cross-party basis. I find it inconceivable that a Tory government led by Theresa May could keep Britain in the European Economic Area or retain freedom of movement, even if they wanted to.
And if that proves to be correct, there are only really four alternatives -
1) The EU backs down and accepts British cherry-picking of the most desirable aspects of the single market and customs union. This is almost unimaginable because it would create a precedent that Eurosceptics in other member states would try to follow, thus risking the unravelling of the EU.
2) A Canada-type deal is negotiated after all. This is possible, but it would require turning the super-tanker around, because it's clearly not close to what Theresa May has in mind at the moment. It would mean a very hard Brexit in any case.
3) There is no deal at all.
4) The Prime Minister's failure to strike a deal (or a deal that is consistent with her red lines) triggers a political crisis that results in a change of leadership and/or a general election.
I can recall at least two previous occasions when we've been told that the PM has made a decisive move towards a soft Brexit, only for us to realise weeks later that there had been no change of any real significance. I fully expect the same to prove true on this occasion.
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