Theresa May faces increasing criticism over Brexit plans

Written by Martin Banks on 3 September 2018 in News

UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit strategy means “disaster” for Britain, the country’s former foreign minister Boris Johnson said at the weekend, as critics at home and officials in Brussels intensified their opposition to her plans for how to leave the EU.

Photo credit: Press Association

In an article, Johnson savaged May’s Brexit plans, saying they would leave the UK with “diddly squat” after the negotiations and hand the EU “victory”.

He used his Daily Telegraph column to say May’s Chequers deal - which led him to resign his cabinet post in July - “means disaster” for Britain. 

He wrote, “I suppose there may be some aspects of the Chequers proposals that they pretend not to like. They may puff about cherry picking the single market. There may be some confected groaning and twanging of leotards when it comes to the discussion on free movement. But the reality is that in this negotiation the EU has so far taken every important trick. The UK has agreed to hand over £40bn of taxpayers’ money for two thirds of diddly squat.


“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.

By agreeing to a ‘common rulebook’ with the EU - over which we have no control - we are making it impossible for the UK to be more competitive, to innovate, to deviate, to initiate, and we are ruling out major free trade deals.”


However, in a separate newspaper article, the strategy was strongly defended by May over the weekend.

On Sunday, the UK Prime Minister wrote that she was “confident” a “good deal” could be reached on Brexit, but that it was right for the government to prepare for a no-deal scenario - even though this would create “real challenges for both the UK and the EU” in some sectors. 

Reacting to Johnson’s latest comments on Brexit, UK Socialist MEP Richard Corbett told this website, “It’s a reminder that the Chequers proposal is basically saying to the EU, ‘We’re leaving, so please change your rules to make it less of a problem for us’. It is not surprising that the EU are reluctant.”

Former UK Europe Minister Denis Macshane said, “These are cold hard facts that if the UK leaves the customs union and single market, then its firms within the UK and firms selling into the UK will be treated as firms in third countries like Korea or Mexico or Canada - that is to say there will be customs inspections at borders.

“This will destroy just-in-time supply of essential parts and necessitate long queues at Dover and Calais and the Eurotunnel and all other entry ports into the UK. I am amazed that business is not talking to its employers, local communities, local elected representatives to explain what this means.”

Elsewhere, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, has caused a stir after he said he is “strongly opposed” to the UK government’s proposal for a future UK-EU relationship. In an interview with Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Barnier said, “If we let the British cherry pick which of our regulations to follow, that would have serious consequences. That would be the end of the single market and the European project.” 

He also warned that EU car manufacturers would have to use fewer British components in the future to continue benefiting from tariff-free benefits in other trade agreements. He described the government’s facilitated customs arrangement as “not practical,” arguing, “That would only be possible with insane and unjustifiable bureaucracy. Therefore, the British proposal would be an invitation to fraud if implemented.”

On this, the former UK Liberal MEP Andrew Duff, now visiting fellow at Brussels-based think tank, the European Policy Centre, said, “Michel Barnier is getting exasperated, but he should watch his rhetoric. If the EU reaches an accommodation with the UK on access to the single market based on supervised regulatory alignment, it will not be the end of the European project. 

“In fact, the EU has to adjust in any case to building a federal core inside the 27 and to coping with more differentiation in a wider Europe. Brexit does not cause this, but only accelerates the need for adjustment.”

Barnier said plans for a ‘common rulebook’ for goods but not services were not in the EU’s interests, adding, “Our own ecosystem has grown over decades. You cannot play with it by picking pieces.

“The British have a choice. They could stay in the single market, like Norway, which is also not a member of the EU - but they would then have to take over all the associated rules and contributions to European solidarity. But 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.”

Meanwhile, UK Tory MEP Charles Tannock told this website, “I initially welcomed the Chequers plan followed by the White Paper as a softish hard Brexit in the hope that it would be an opening negotiating position with the objective of further concessions, particularly on the customs union, to end up with something like the Jersey model.  

“It would now appear from government statements that there is no flexibility and that this is a take it or leave it final proposal, and in the result of a rejection a no-deal. If this is true, rather than a negotiating tactic, clearly given Michel Barnier’s statement as currently formulated it will not fly, particularly given that the model would be one sought by other third countries and would entail the EU farming out its tariff collection to them. 

“The great advantage of Chequers was of course it did not require a separate backstop for Northern Ireland because as it is constructed the border would remain fully open between the whole of the UK and the EU. 

“It is hard to see now, given that Downing Street is resolutely pushing Chequers and Barnier is opposing it, that a withdrawal agreement deal can be easily concluded unless the European Council summit in October overrules and changes the negotiating mandate. 

“This seems unlikely though given Macron and Merkel’s continued support for the current EU negotiating mandate given to Barnier. Although technically more about the future framework to be concluded in the transitional period post-Brexit, clearly the Northern Ireland backstop remains a problem for the withdrawal agreement itself.”

Philippe Lamberts, co-leader of Parliament’s Greens/EFA group, said, “Michel Barnier is right that the UK cannot cherry pick parts of Union membership as it sees fit and that the EU27 must remain united. 

“UK citizens are starting to wake-up to the reality that they already have the best deal they could possibly get with EU membership. The question now is whether the British government will continue to drive the country over a cliff or hold a people’s vote on the final outcome of the negotiations.”


Ashley Fox, leader of the Conservative MEPs in Parliament, dismissed Barnier’s comments as “more of the same.”

He said, “Every time the UK publishes proposals, the EU shoots it down publicly instead of engaging constructively. In any negotiation, it is what is said behind closed doors that matters, not posturing in German newspapers.”

The UK government on Monday insisted its Brexit strategy was “precise and pragmatic”.


About the author

Martin Banks is a senior reporter for the Parliament Magazine


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