Chequers deal compromises Brexit

Editorial | Mary Ma 9 Jul 2018

It has taken British Prime Minister Theresa May two years to get her cabinet to unite in speaking with one voice on the question of Brexit. It's a surprise she hadn't done so sooner.

Prior to retreating to the prime minister's country house Chequers, the cabinet was fragmented by dissent. Having sequestered Euroskeptic ministers like Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson there physically alienating them from their political bases, May was able to coerce them to submit to collective responsibility.

Thus, these ministers will have to adhere to the official position, now dubbed the Chequers agreement, if and when they speak out publicly on Brexit.

The agreement may be fragile, but it is enough to stop leading hard-line Brexiteers from voicing out their opposition to it publicly.

Nobody cares if the deal represents a consensus in the true sense or not - as long as it enables May to present to her European Union counterparts a "British stance" that takes negotiations to the next stage, which is trade and customs.

The Chequers compromise represents progress, though the advance that has been made is actually a small one.

Due to dissenting views within May's cabinet, negotiations on Brexit has bogged down since the first round of talks on a divorce bill was completed, and that was already many months ago. So much time has passed since that more and more business leaders are warning they may be forced to move production lines away from Britain if a soft Brexit deal can't be reached soon enough.

These business leaders should be pleased now, for the Chequers agreement is softer than a sponge.

Among others, it foresees Britain continuing to be "harmonized" with EU rules to ensure frictionless trade in goods and agricultural produce; freedom of movement of workers to be replaced by a new "mobility framework" that will again ensure British and EU citizens continue to travel to each other's territories to study and work; and European Court of Justice jurisdiction to cease to apply to Britain but that London will pay regard to decisions where common rules are in force.

The vision points to a future relationship that is softer than any previously known positions. It's questionable if Tory Brexiteers would accept it without a fight.

Even then it's only a wish list that May will take to the negotiation table where, I am sure, EU officials will demand further concessions from her as talks deepen to the crunch issues of the four freedoms that EU insists are indivisible.

The EU has made it clear that free movement of goods - as desired by Britain - must go along with labor, services and capital. While free labor movement - or migration - is the most controversial of all, it can't be more obvious from the Chequers announcement that May's government is softening on this matter, regardless of what it's to be called.

If a deal with the EU is ever reached, what would it be like?

Assuming that May is able to survive until she finishes the Brexit talks, the deal would likely show Britain largely accepting EU rules. But it will be tempting to ask: what's the point of having Brexit then?

Brexit is set to be the biggest political irony in British history.

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