Theresa May to make statement on Brexit after EU leaders ‘rebuff’ Chequers plan

Theresa May is making a statement this afternoon after EU leaders “rebuffed” her Chequers blueprint.

The Prime Minister called cameras into No 10 as a senior minister expressed anger over her treatment at the Salzburg summit which was described as a “humiliation” by the media.

Shortly before her 1.45pm address, Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab launched a ferocious attack on EU leaders for having “yanked the handbrake” on a Chequers deal.

 

He accused European summit president summit leader Donald Tusk of looking “unstatesmanlike” by posting Instagram images mocking Theresa May. The picture showed him offering her a cake with the quip: “Sorry, no cherries.”

Mr Raab lambasted the EU 27 leaders for giving “no coherent explanation” for rejecting Mrs May’s Chequers plan, nor offering any alternative to it. He said they seemed to be trying to “salami slice” her blueprint rather than respond in kind to the “arm of friendship” that Mrs May had extended.

“We have been rebuffed on our plans without any coherent explanation why,” he told the BBC.

“We have revved up the motor of these negotiations and the EU has just yanked up the handbrake. For the negotiations to go forward they are going to have to take their hand off the handbrake.”

He signalled that Mrs May would not dump her plans nor make further concessions at this stage. “We are going to hold our nerve, keep calm and continue negotiating in good faith.”

In a clear reference to Mr Tusk he said: “I don’t want to impugn bad intentions to the other side. I think some of the way it was done – social media against the Prime Minister – didn’t feel to me like very statesmanlike behaviour.”

He went on: “To be rebuffed on those aspects, without a coherent explanation, without credible alternatives, I think at some point light will shine back on the EU with questions about whether they handled this well.”

Some senior ministers including Home Secretary Sajid Javid were said to be moving towards supporting a Canada-style trade deal after Mrs May’s plan was rebuffed by leaders including French president Emmanuel Macron and European Council president Donald Tusk.

Recriminations over the UK’s “humiliation” at the gathering in Austria were in full swing as Mrs May and her team of advisers flew home this morning.

Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith blamed Mrs May’s Europe adviser Olly Robbins, but supporters of the senior official said he had warned about possible rejection and had been ignored by the Prime Minister’s team.

Two Cabinet ministers, James Brokenshire and Chris Grayling, issued warnings that Britain will crash out of the European Union without a deal unless leaders on the Continent take a softer line.

“The Chequers deal is a workable, credible deal to meet our ambitions,” Mr Brokenshire, the Housing Secretary, said on the Radio 4 Today programme. “It’s for the EU to engage with what’s on the table, which is actually Chequers Two.”

Mr Grayling said: “We are now preparing hard for the option of a no-deal Brexit. We don’t want to get there, we don’t expect to get there. But our European partners, if they want to reach a deal, they have to find a way of understanding that there are some things we cannot accept.”

Asked on Newsnight if he would stay in Cabinet if concessions were made by Mrs May, Mr Grayling replied: “I’m not going to comment on specific changes to Chequers. There are none on the table at the moment.”

Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry said the House of Commons will not be “taken hostage” by threats to crash out of the EU with no deal.

In an exclusive Evening Standard interview , she described Chequers as “bollocks” and said MPs would not tolerate being given a false choice of Chequers or no deal. “If she’s not capable of getting an agreement, I can see no reason why she should hold us hostage or, frankly, Parliament hostage and say, ‘Unless you agree to this we are not going to have a deal.’  If you [Mrs May] can’t govern, let’s have another general election.”

Mrs May woke today to the worst newspaper headlines since the general election last year, with many newspapers describing her ordeal at Salzburg as a humiliation.

Senior backbenchers were aghast at the setback coming so close to the Conservative conference, just over a week away. “She has got to get a grip and start listening to reality,” one MP said.

In an increasingly febrile atmosphere, there were even rumours swirling that Mrs May might resign. “Major announcement coming up from @theresa_may or so the jungle drums say,” tweeted MP Nadine Dorries, a leading critic of Mrs May.

“What can possibly go wrong?” No 10 sources flatly denied Mrs May had any such plans to make a keynote statement.

Mr Javid was described by one ally as “pro Canada”, meaning he would prefer a trade agreement to the Chequers proposals, which involve remaining in alignment with the EU on goods and food.

 

Some Cabinet Brexiteers including Penny Mordaunt and Andrea Leadsom were said also to be backing a trade deal. However, a fellow minister said that would fail to solve the Irish border problem.

Chancellor Philip Hammond was “full square” behind Chequers “for as long as [Mrs May] is pushing it”, sources said.

Former Cabinet minister Stephen Crabb accused the EU of trying to “belittle” the Prime Minister with the bluntness of their rejection.

Mr Crabb told Today: “The first rule is don’t panic. One of the outcomes the EU leaders wanted from yesterday was for Britain to go away, push the panic button and re-think, but the Prime Minister needs to stick to her guns.”

He added: “There’s still life left in this. The Prime Minister can’t back down.”

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