‘My deal or no deal’: UK PM Theresa May threatens Tory rebels who oppose her Brexit plan
Conservative leader hopes to end opposition from critics who say her plan ties Britain too closely to the EU
British Prime Minister Theresa May has warned that her Brexit plan is the only alternative to crashing out of the European Union without an agreement, in an interview broadcast on Monday.
Despite strong opposition in her Conservative party and criticism in Brussels, May has stuck by the so-called Chequers proposal to keep close trade ties with the EU after Brexit on March 29 next year.
“The alternative to that will be not having a deal,” she told the BBC.
“The European Union had basically put two offers on the table. Either the UK stays in the single market and the customs union – effectively in the EU – that would have betrayed the vote of the British people,” she insisted. “Or, on the other side, a basic free trade agreement but carving Northern Ireland out and effectively keeping Northern Ireland in the European Union and Great Britain out. That would have broken up the United Kingdom, or could have broken up the United Kingdom. Both of those were unacceptable to the UK.
“We said ‘no’ … we’re going to put our own proposal forward and that’s what Chequers is about … It unblocked the negotiations,” she said.
May will meet EU leaders in Salzburg on Wednesday and Thursday, as she seeks a breakthrough in talks on the Brexit divorce and the future UK-EU trading relationship.
Even if she gets a deal in the coming weeks, it must be agreed by the House of Commons in London, where she only has a small majority.
A senior figure in the main opposition Labour party has said it was likely to vote against the deal, meaning only a small number of May’s Conservative MPs need rebel to kill it.
May expressed confidence parliament would approve the deal – but warned there was no alternative if Britain wanted to avoid a potentially disruptive “no deal” scenario.
“Do we really think … that if parliament was to say, ‘No, go back and get a better one’, do we really think the EU is going to give a better deal at that point?” she said.
May has proposed that Britain follow EU rules in trade in goods after Brexit, to protect manufacturing supply lines and avoid a “hard border” between Northern Ireland and Ireland.
“I don’t want manufacturers to feel that they’ve got to operate under all sorts of different rules, because that complicates life for them and that potentially means business leaving this country,” she said.
May also insisted no other plan on the table would ensure “frictionless” trade in Ireland.
But critics say her proposal would tie Britain too closely to the EU, and argue that the Irish issue can be resolved through trusted trader schemes and the use of technology.
Former foreign minister Boris Johnson, who quit in July in protest at the Chequers plan, launched a fresh attack on it in his weekly newspaper column on Monday.
“The whole thing is a constitutional abomination,” Johnson, who previously compared it to a “suicide vest”, wrote in The Daily Telegraph.
Tory MPs in the hard Brexit European Research Group (ERG) were quick to voice their objections. Steve Baker, who resigned as a junior Brexit minister over Chequers, said he agreed with Johnson, who also wrote that the UK should aim for a Canada-style free trade agreement.
Baker began by quoting Johnson, saying “if the Brexit negotiations continue on this path they will end, I am afraid, in a spectacular political car crash,” and he went on: “He’s right. The future for the UK alongside the EU must be based on an advanced FTA (free-trade agreement), plus a range of agreements.”
Jacob Rees-Mogg, ERG chairman, told LBC radio May was wrong.
“The prime minister’s argument on the radio this morning [was] that it was either her plan or WTO terms, in which case WTO terms would be much better,” he said. “The only reason we have got the Chequers plan is because she didn’t put forward a better one. It’s not this simple either/or case.”
However, May won support for her Brexit plan from the International Monetary Fund, which has warned that failure to reach a deal with the EU would have “substantial costs” for the UK economy.
The IMF said a no-deal Brexit would lead to a “significantly worse outcome” for economic growth than if a deal can be struck, especially if there was failure to agree on an implementation period.
Additional reporting by The Guardian