Crunch time at Chequers

Theresa May at Chequers © Getty images
There are ominous rumbles in the Conservative party

Theresa May has taken steps to end her Brexit fudge. Matthew Partridge reports.

“At last the politics of Brexit have caught up with the hard law and policy realities,” says David Allen Green in the Financial Times. Until now, the internal negotiations between factions of the Conservatives and the talks between Britain and the EU have taken place along parallel lines, with the government making just enough concessions “for the Brexit negotiations to continue”.

However, the cabinet meeting at Chequers last Friday and the subsequent resignation of three pro-Brexit ministers – David Davis, Boris Johnson and Steve Baker – “indicates that a clash, which may or may not lead to reconciliation, cannot be delayed any longer”.

The resignations could delay Brexit

The resignations and threats by backbenchers to bring down Theresa May are “an insurrection entirely of the government’s making”, says the Daily Mail. It’s easy to see her proposals for a common rule book on goods, regulatory harmonisation and the new facilitated customs arrangement as “a sell-out of the referendum mandate for a clean break with Brussels” . Indeed, the need “to rubber-stamp policies agreed in Europe without our say… puts us at the mercy of EU rule makers who will think nothing of damaging British industry to suit French and German companies”, says Nick Timothy in The Sun.

Still, the fact remains that there really isn’t any credible alternative to the Chequers deal, says William Hague in The Daily Telegraph. For one thing, “the Commons as currently constituted does not support the harder forms of Brexit”. Second, it is “unrealistic” to proceed with any plan that means vast disruption for firms such as Airbus, BMW and Jaguar Land Rover that are “crucially reliant on moving their goods seamlessly across our borders”.

Third, there’s the Irish border issue: “cleaner breaks with the EU are not compatible with a completely open frontier [in Ireland] unless we were to permit a new economic border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK”.

May survives – for now

Hence despite losing two cabinet members, it’s possible that May has “emerged from the latest bout of blue-on-blue warfare in a stronger position”, says Stephen Bush in The New Statesman. She’s had the chance to carry out a reshuffle “that leaves her cabinet refreshed, more united than it was this time last week”.

And it’s now clear “that her Brexit opponents don’t, for the time being, have the numbers to remove her as prime minister, or indeed an alternative Brexit strategy to bring forward”. Still, her long-term future is questionable, says Gaby Hinsliff in the Guardian. There are “deeply ominous rumbles coming from grassroots members” and “many Tory MPs will return home this weekend to an earful that may yet colour the mood”.

Even if she weathers this, she “faces the prospect of death by a thousand cuts” to the proposals in the Brexit white paper fleshing out the Chequers agreement. The best she can hope for is to get a deal – any deal – “before yielding to whichever successor seems least likely to destroy the Conservative party”.


Trump plays safe on Supreme Court pick

By picking Brett Kavanaugh as his latest nominee for the US Supreme Court, Donald Trump has gone for “the safest conservative bet he can find”, says Edward Luce in the Financial Times. Kavanaugh has “stellar credentials”, can be “relied upon to further a strong conservative agenda”, and is so young that he “could easily be sitting on America’s apex court a generation from now”. That said, what probably appealed to Trump the most was Kavanaugh’s “generous views of presidential immunity”, which may become significant if special counsel Robert Mueller tries to subpoena the president for questioning.

If voters start to believe that Trump picked Kavanaugh solely to make it harder to investigate him, it could backfire, says Dahlia Lithwick on Slate. A bruising fight to get Kavanaugh confirmed will ensure “that the Mueller probe stays in the headlines” and raises the chance that the midterm elections will be “about whether Trump’s proposed new justice thinks the president can pardon himself”. As “get-out-the-vote messages go, it’s not a strong one” for the Republicans.

Still, Democrats should not get carried away, says Carl Hulse in The New York Times. A “high-profile battle for the Supreme Court” could help them in the fight for the House of Representatives, which is “being waged across swing suburban districts around the country”. But in the Senate, many Democrats are fighting in traditionally Republican states, where opposition to Kavanaugh “could prompt a… backlash”. In short, this “has thrown another wild card into the scramble for congressional supremacy”.