THERESA MAY is giving her Brexit plan the hard sell across Europe this summer.
I understand her message to European leaders including Emmanuel Macron, who she cut short her holiday to see yesterday, is that she has made a choice and now they must do so: They must decide if they want a deal.
Theresa May must be careful about making too concessions in EU talks, says James Forsyth
Mrs May is having some success. Inside Government, the view is that the chances of a deal are inching up. There is also cautious optimism that the British message on the Irish backstop, that a customs border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom is unacceptable, has finally been understood.
But Mrs May ISN’T HAVING ENOUGH SUCCESS. There is no sign of the European Commission moving away from its position that the four freedoms of the single market can’t be separated.
So the UK can’t have free movement of goods with the EU without accepting free movement as well.
No10’s great hope has always been that the member states would be more pragmatic than the Commission — which is why Mrs May and her ministers are travelling around Europe trying to sell her plan directly to national capitals this summer.
PA:Press Association/PA Images Theresa May hasn’t been having enough success in her Brexit talks, says James Forsyth
Reuters Theresa May meets with Emmanuel Macron in France to talk ahead of EU summit in Salzburg Dominic Raab says Britain will be prepared for no-deal and we’ll thrive no matter what
The Government thinks the Salzburg summit next month, where Mrs May will get the chance to pitch to the 27 member state leaders directly, is vital. Their aim is that this should pave the way for a special council in November which would sign off on the withdrawal deal and agree a political declaration on the future relationship between the UK and the EU.
The leaders of the member states will be more understanding of Mrs May’s political predicament. There are also several countries becoming increasingly concerned about what happens if the UK crashes out without a deal.
AP:Associated Press Dominic Raab and other ministers head off around Europe for talks with EU leaders
AFP Conservative ministers meet at Chequers to discuss Theresa May’s Brexit plans
But this will mean they will be polite about Chequers, rather than accepting it with only a few tweaks. Instead, they will try to give Mrs May cover to make further concessions. Or enable her to delay making these concessions until Parliament has voted through the withdrawal agreement, guaranteeing a transition until the end of 2020 in exchange for the UK paying the EU a £39billion divorce bill.
Mrs May, though, must be careful. Tempting as it may be to put off difficult issues, once the UK has agreed to pay the money, its leverage in these negotiations is severely reduced.
She should want the political declaration that will accompany the withdrawal agreement to be as clear as possible about the future trading relationship.
Handout – Getty Theresa May outlines Brexit White Paper at Chequers, but it is important she has a back-up plan, says James Forsyth The Brexit Summit – Theresa May warns ministers they’ll be stripped of official cars if they quit after Brexit summit at her country home Chequers
She must also be careful about making more concessions. As one Cabinet minister warns: “That’s when it gets really dangerous.”
When I asked this minister how much room for manoeuvre they thought the PM had, they replied: “It is close to zero.”
For these reasons, Mrs May needs a worked-up back-up plan. She can’t afford to be drawn into a negotiation where she is being pushed into making concession after concession.
Tory rebels playing numbers game
THE chances of Theresa May facing a vote of no confidence this autumn are increasing.
Her internal opponents had previously been of the view that there was no point in forcing one if she would win it, meaning they couldn’t challenge her again for another year.
But one of those acting as a go-between for the various rebel factions says they now believe their prospects of winning a vote are rising. I’m told that if they reckon they have a one-in-three chance of deposing her, they will try it.
It is going to be a long, hard autumn for Mrs May.
There also won’t be time to go back to the drawing board after Salzburg; the withdrawal deal will have to be ready to be voted on by Parliament in January at the latest.
Mrs May must give herself options in these Brexit talks. If she doesn’t, she’ll face a choice between no deal — for which her Government is poorly prepared — and making ever more concessions.