May to force decision on trade

Jacob Rees-Mogg © Rex Features
Jacob Rees-Mogg: shot down

Even if the PM manages to unite her Cabinet, will the EU agree to her deal? Emily Hohler reports.

A Cabinet lock-in at Chequers on Friday 6 July, dubbed the “body-bag summit”, is designed to “force a decision” on the UK’s post-Brexit trade policy, says Andrew Atkinson on Bloomberg. “Back the prime minister or resign” is the option reportedly facing ministers. Theresa May’s new plan for Britain’s future relationship with the EU is top secret, says the Financial Times, with even David Davis, the Brexit secretary, being kept in the dark.

However, “all the signs are” that May plans to soften her red lines, enraging “arch Brexiteers” who believe this will be a “betrayal of her original pledge to take the UK out of the customs union, single market and European Court of Justice”, says James Blitz in the FT.

Leading eurosceptic Jacob Rees-Mogg warned earlier this week that May will “face an open Tory rebellion that risks the collapse of her government” if she does not deliver the Brexit “she herself has promised”. He was rapidly slapped down by various government ministers and MPs. One Foreign Office minister, Alan Duncan, accused him of “insolence” and told him to “pipe down”.

A time for decisions, not threats

All this hectoring has got to stop, says William Hague in The Daily Telegraph. An observer might be forgiven for thinking that the Tory party now “consists entirely” of two warring factions. In fact, there is a “vast sensible middle” comprising ministers and MPs that just “get on with their jobs without threatening to bring the house down every couple of weeks”.

Time for agreeing a policy is “long overdue” and “continued division is… worse than any of the options causing it”, since it allows the European Commission to “sit back, make zero concessions and prepare to impose its own terms” in the absence of any alternatives. It was clear that “very difficult compromises would have to be made” the moment last year’s election results indicated a minority government. If ardent Brexiteers push too hard, the Commons will be “much more likely to vote in the near future to stay in the customs union in its entirety”.

Quite, says Robert Shrimsley in the FT. “It is in the nature of politicians and pundits to fixate on the immediate and forget the fundamentals.” But the essential realities aren’t going to go away, namely: no money, no parliamentary majority and the “greatest constitutional challenge in modern memory”. Even if May were replaced and the political direction shifted towards a harder Brexit, these problems would remain and Tories would still be divided. “The choice then is between a leader who grasps the complexity of Brexit and wants a compromise that does minimal damage to the economy, and a leader who does not, but will be forced to accept one in the end.”

Hard Brexiteers aren’t the only issue

Even if May manages to face down hard Brexiteers at Chequers, she runs the very real risk of being “shot down by the EU” when she delivers her Brexit white paper to Europe next week, says Peter Foster in The Daily Telegraph. The “word from Whitehall” is that May will propose a new customs arrangement that will see “close alignment with EU rules on industrial goods and a commensurate degree of EU oversight”, with the UK free to diverge only on services, but “with its hands tied” on many sectors, including agriculture.

This will “infuriate” Brexiteers, since it hardly amounts to the clean break many of them want. And even then, the EU has “already clearly signalled” that it will reject such a plan because it provides British companies with an unfair advantage. As one EU negotiator put it, “Our biggest fear is that the white paper is full of fluff… May wins her internal battle yet again – and yet we are precisely nowhere.” Next week may be “a bloodbath”.


Socialist firebrand delivers shock

Democrat voters in New York “delivered a shock to the political system” last week, says The New York Times. In a primary for New York’s 14th congressional district they rejected the fourth-ranking House Democrat Joe Crowley in favour of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 28-year-old left-wing activist and former campaign organiser for Bernie Sanders.

Ocasio-Cortez’s victory is a “vivid sign of the changing of the guard”. She ran on a platform of Medicare access and a government-guaranteed job for all, and also proposed the abolition of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE). She says her victory proves that left-wing policies can win elections, says Tara Golshan in Vox.

There are plenty who disagree. Democrat Senator Tammy Duckworth of Illinois notes that “you can’t win the White House without the Midwest, and I don’t think you can go too far left and still win the Midwest”. House minority leader Nancy Pelosi remarked that her win didn’t imply a wider shift in Democratic party beliefs, adds Lauren Gambino in The Guardian. According to Pelosi, it was “about that district”. Ocasio-Cortez disagreed, telling NBC there were many other districts “that have changed a lot in the last 20 years and whose representation has not”.

Republicans shouldn’t get complacent, says The Wall Street Journal. Ocasio-Cortez is likely to nudge the party to the left. She will be a “sure winner” in the November mid-terms and her victory may well encourage other Democrats to shift left to avoid a challenge in their own primaries. This trend “portends more polarisation” in US politics, with Democrats probably even less inclined to compromise now.

Nor can Republicans necessarily count on the conventional wisdom that a “sharp left turn” makes the Democrats less appealing to the electorate. Look at what everyone said about Corbyn.