It sounds like Theresa May and her cabinet are putting the cart before the horse.
Despite winning a major concession from the EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier last week, Theresa May’s revised “secret” Brexit plan has so far failed to pass muster in Westminster. And as the battle over the controversial “backstop” agreement – a plan to avert a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland at all costs, even if Brexit trade talks go “pear-shaped” – rages on despite the EU’s openness to keeping the entirety of the UK in the customs union (albeit temporarily), May’s leadership team has decided to skip the hard part and start formulating a plan to sell the deal – whatever that might be.
And although May’s senior cabinet officials were not presented with a deal this week, presumably because the various factions in May’s conservative party have yet to unify behind whatever outline is presently being circulated, the leadership did at least manage to agree that, whatever happens with the details, May will have a deal in hand by the end of the month. And to help sell that deal, May and her top officials plan to stress a strategy of “measured success”, according to the BBC, which reportedly saw a copy of May’s government’s plan to market the deal.
“The narrative is going to be measured success, that this is good for everyone but won’t be all champagne corks popping.”
The plan relies on endorsements from foreign leaders like Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, as well as a flurry of corporate endorsements, to help shore up support before May shares the details of the deal in a speech to the CBI, one of the UK’s biggest and most influential business groups. The campaign strategy will culminate with an all-out blitz on the evening of the vote, expected late this month, demanding that lawmakers put their own agendas aside and put the country’s interests first.
Here’s the rough timeline of May’s plan, courtesy of the BBC.
Cabinet reviews the deal this Tuesday, the 6th November. They expect all the details to then leak.
“A moment of decisive progress” will be announced this Thursday. Raab to announce.
The narrative is going to be measured success, that this is good for everyone, but won’t be all champagne corks popping.
Then there’s recess until 12th.
After the announcement of decisive progress there follows the 10 days of Sherpa meetings with EU 27 and then daily themed announcements.
19th November – “We have delivered on the referendum” PM speaks at the CBI conference.
Saying this deal brings the country back together, now is the time for us all to unite behind it for the good of all our futures etc. She will also hold a business reception.
This is the day both the Withdrawal Agreement and Future Framework will be put to Parliament by way of a statement from Raab who will also do media. Junior ministers are doing regional media all day. Government lining up 25 top business voices including Carolyn Fairburn and lots of world leaders eg Japanese PM to tweet support for the deal.
20th – Theme is Delivering for the Whole of the UK – PM to visit the north and or Scotland and the Commons will debate in business motions the date of the Meaningful Vote.
PM will be back in the house to vote. The Cabinet Office publishes its explainer of the deal and what it means for the public, comparing it to No Deal, but not to our current deal.
Other business leaders to come out and back it eg Adam Marshall from Chambers of Commerce and supportive voices in devolved regions like Andy Street and Andy Burnham. Also hoping to get 3rd Sector voices out supporting it.
21st – Theme is Economy, Jobs, Customs. Philip Hammond to open debate in Commons and Raab to close it. Institute of Directors to speak out.
Hoping for Stephen Martin, Martin McTeague etc
22nd – Theme is immigration – take back control of our borders. Home Sec doing media and visits. Raab on QT in the West mids.
Hope Mike Hawes of SMMT will speak out in favour along with influential voices from the rest of the world saying how great this is for the flow of global talent.
23rd – Theme is money – NHS funding and structural funds. Matt Hancock hospital visit. David Everett to welcome the deal alongside Tech for UK.
24th Theme is Northern Ireland and The Union – no hard border in the UK and the integrity of the Union is protected. PM visits border communities and business in NI and maybe also to Wales to visit agri and export businesses. Karen Bradley doing media.
Trying to get Varadker to support and Anand Menon and Henry Newman too.
25th – Theme is global Britain. We can strike trade deals with RoW (rest of world) security in this one too.
Speech from Liam Fox. Jeremy Hunt on Marr. Hope Miles Celic to come out in support (City UK).
Lining up lots of former foreign secs to come out in support and Mark Littlewood of the IEA.
26th – theme is taking back control of our laws, Raab doing media. PM interview with Dimbleby.
27th – morning theme is agri and fisheries. Gove doing a visit and media.
Evening is the vote. HISTORIC MOMENT, PUT YOUR OWN INTERESTS ASIDE, PUT THE COUNTRY’S INTERESTS FIRST AND BACK THIS DEAL.
Understanding the controversy surrounding the Brexit “backstop” – and why the issue of avoiding a hard border in Northern Ireland has become such an intractable sticking point – can be difficult for non-Europeans (and, indeed, even some Europeans who haven’t closely followed the meandering negotiations).
According to the FT, Britain wants to avoid measures that could divide Northern Ireland and London, so keeping Northern Ireland in the EU customs Union while the rest of the UK leaves is a political non-starter for conservatives and members of the Democratic Unionist Party, the party in Northern Ireland that is helping to prop up May’s conservative government. The party’s leader recently said a customs border in the middle of the Irish Sea would be tantamount to “annexation” by Europe.
May and her government hope that the deal will win enough support to incentivize Barnier to call a summit of EU leaders to hammer out the language of a final deal that has a solid chance of passing Parliament.
Of course, no matter the text of the deal, Parliament still has the power to send negotiators back to square one which, this late in the game, would almost certainly lead to a “no deal” Brexit. Though May and her team are setting a “hard” deadline for the end of the month, observers can rest assured that, in reality, every deadline is a “soft” deadline. May and her team have little choice but to continue negotiations until the very last minute, at which point either a deal will emerge, or it won’t.