Richard North, 09/08/2018  

The Twittersphere is all agog with Mrs May's latest charm offensive, trying to sell her Chequers plan to her party faithful. Published by Conservative Councillor Phil King, deputy leader of Harborough District, so far it boasts exactly zero "likes" and a similar number of retweets.

At least Conservative Home have given it an airing and the Guardian is on the case, using Cllr King's helpful publication.

Meanwhile, it takes no great genius to work out what really excites the legacy media and the social media. The oaf's genius for self-publicity has got him the headlines and the attention he so desperately craves.

That said, it is not easy to get worked up about Mrs May's latest contribution to the debate. We've been there before, and she has very little new to say. Even the mantras are the same.

Our revered prime minister starts by telling the faithful – just in case they needed reminding, that in the referendum on 23 June 2016 – the largest ever democratic exercise in the United Kingdom – the British people voted to leave the European Union.

"And that", she says, "is what we will do", adding the now-familiar litany: "We will take back control of our money, laws, and borders". All this, she declares, begins "a new exciting chapter in our nation's history".

But Mrs May, having acquired a reputation for not listening to anyone outside her own tiny inner circle, now has it that "it now falls to us all to write that chapter". And that is why, over the last two years, she has travelled up and down the country listening to views from all four nations of our United Kingdom and every side of the debate.

I don't know if she has read these words – words which she has put her name to – but she set in stone her Brexit policy on 17 January 2017, when she committed the UK to leaving the Single Market. And she hasn't altered her position one iota. If she's been listening to views from "every side of the debate", she has a funny way of showing it.

I need not then trouble you with the platitudes about making "this great country … fairer and more prosperous than ever before", which means we can cut to the chase and learn how the Government is delivering on the result of the referendum, and the pledges made at the general election, to leave the EU and build a strong new relationship with the EU from outside.

Startlingly, though, she admits that "our negotiations on our future relationship have reached an impasse" and that the two options on offer from the EU at the moment "are not acceptable to me, or to the United Kingdom".

The first is a standard free trade agreement for Great Britain – with Northern Ireland staying in the customs union and parts of the single market. This "would break up the UK" and, as a proud Unionist, Mrs May is "very clear" that it would be "unacceptable".

The second, membership of the customs union plus an extended version of the European Economic Area (EEA), would mean free movement, vast annual payments and alignment with EU rules across the whole of our economy. This, says Mrs May, "would not be consistent with the referendum result".

While remaining "clear" that "no deal is better than a bad deal" – to which effect the Government is stepping up its "no deal" preparations, Mrs May avers that the "best path to delivering Brexit" is to "get the EU to consider a third option".

I suppose we can be grateful that she did not – in the manner of Tony Blair – call it the third way, but nonetheless that is what the White Paper has become. It "honours the result of the referendum, maintains the constitutional and economic integrity of our United Kingdom, and sets us on course for a productive relationship with our closest trading partners".

The need to preserve my own sanity prevents me from then delivering verbatim what Mrs May then has to say - for the reason that we've heard it so many times already. If I hear it once more, my head will explode.

Suffice to say that her "plan" is in no sense a concession to the EU's "demands". She is rejecting the two models they have put forward. Instead, "we are asking them to accept a bespoke model which meets the unique requirements of the United Kingdom", she says. And a "key part" of that bespoke model:
… is the creation of a free trade area on goods between the UK and the EU. This would protect the uniquely integrated supply chains and ‘just-in-time’ processes which have developed over the last 40 years, and the jobs and livelihoods dependent on them. It would ensure that businesses on both sides can continue operating through their current value and supply chains. It would avoid the need for customs and regulatory checks at the border, and mean that businesses would not need to complete costly customs declarations. And it would enable products to undergo only one set of approvals and authorisations in either market, before being sold in both.
There is more – there always is. But, with that, Mrs May has just buried us. Actually, it's more in the sense of a traditional burial where the earth in the plot is left to settle for a year before the headstone is positioned. That's what she's done: she's set the headstone.

Just for once, it would be such a relief for our prime minister to acknowledge that, when we leave the EU, we become a third country – with all that that entails. This is not a status reserved for the "no deal" scenario. It happens automatically, meaning that barriers already in existence and applying to all third countries will apply to us.

Mrs May holds that her proposals for partial adoption of the "common rulebook" will bring us frictionless trade at the border. But they won't. They can't and the EU has already rejected them. Yet the Conservative Party is supposed to be stupid enough to buy into something that the "colleagues" have already kicked into touch. Even some Conservatives will be offended by this.

Given the evidence that Mrs May is not taking a blind bit of notice of the Party, they may be further offended by the affirmation that she and the Party Chairman, Brandon Lewis, "are always keen to hear the views of Party members. Questions or comments are thus invited".

Even Conservative Home finds that hard to swallow. Responses received from correspondence already exchanged between members and the centre "have been universally bland", often simply copying and pasting arguments that have already been sent out as press releases and mass emails.

As you can imagine, says CH, "getting such a discourteous reply from Downing Street or from one's own Party is frustrating or even insulting for committed Conservatives who are seeking to express their deep concern about what they believe to be a serious error".

But members, doubtless, are expected to rise above all that. "As Conservatives", Mrs May says, "we should be proud of the role we are playing at this crucial time for our country. We are the Party which gave the British people their say in how they are governed. We are the Party which respects the decision they made. We are the Party which will take the UK out of the European Union next March".

And therein is the ultimate lie. "We are the Party", she says, "which will secure a strong, secure, and prosperous future for the United Kingdom as an independent country standing tall in the world while maintaining a deep and friendly relationship with our closest neighbours".

Conservatives anxious for a repeat dose are then given access to a propaganda sheet on the Party's website. This is just as well as you would have to be a Conservative member to be stupid enough to believe it – and even then, that's pushing it.

There is that saying with which we are all familiar:" you can fool all of the people some of the time …". But this variation ends, "you can't even fool Conservatives all of the time".

It is hard to imagine what Mrs May is even thinking about. Even if she could fool her party members, she can't fool Brussels. And that is going to have a far more profound effect on her life (and ours).

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