Theresa May to seek cabinet backing for changes to Brexit proposals after party conference

Exclusive: Allies in cabinet say Ms May's new proposals must not be tarnished with the 'Chequers' brand

Joe Watts
Political Editor
Monday 01 October 2018 21:55
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Theresa May will seek approval from her cabinet soon after conference for further tweaks to her Brexit plans in a bid to secure a deal from the EU.

The prime minister is set to reshape her customs proposals and also look at whether there is scope to make an offer to Brussels on the alignment of future regulation.

The Independent already reported earlier this week how government officials had been tasked to start looking at an “Chequers 2” position that might be sold to EU negotiators in a bid to seal a deal by November.

Cabinet ministers have also now confirmed their desire to ditch the word “Chequers” from future proposals, saying that it is now a damaged brand that needs to be cut loose.

Allies of the prime minister are bracing themselves at Conservative conference in Birmingham for Boris Johnson to make a speech on Tuesday trashing the prime minister’s proposals and calling for them to be ditched altogether.

One frontbencher said the coming changes to Ms May’s plans would aim to break the impasse in Brexit talks, adding: “She will get conference out of the way first, you can’t do anything here because it would be too divisive.

“But once we’re refocussed on the talks in Brussels then there will be moves to get the deal done by November.”

The Independent understands the PM is in particular looking to make changes to her Chequers plan which would reshape her complex proposals for customs arrangements.

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As it stands they would see the EU and UK collecting tariffs on behalf of each other in order to ensure there is frictionless trade across the UK’s borders, but they have been branded unworkable in many European capitals.

Officials have indicated that the new approach would prioritise frictionless trade and instead see a customs approach proposed that is more aligned to the EU’s.

We have to get the word Chequers out of the conversation It’s a damaged brand, difficult to get excited about and I don’t think it’s particularly helpful

Cabinet minister

The prime minister is also considering if she can do anything to allay fears EU that Britain will refuse to adopt new environmental and social regulation taken on by Brussels, allowing it a competitive advantage after Brexit.

But cabinet ministers who back her strategy are eager to ensure that it does not fall foul of the ill will in the party and wider country already provoked by the row over her Chequers proposals

A cabinet minister said: “We will get a deal. In the white paper that came out of Chequers there are a lot of small areas where you can tweak things to get a compromise.

“But we have to get the word ‘Chequers’ out of the conversation.

“It’s a damaged brand, difficult to get excited about and I don’t think it’s particularly helpful. What comes will just be called, the deal.”

But despite attempts to put the issue off until after conference, reports of the shift in the prime minister’s approach were already causing concern among the Tory ranks.

On senior backbencher told The Independent: “I don’t think anyone would go out to the party and say we are further compromising on Chequers.

“Chequers is already a massive compromise, there is no space to give more to the European Union.”

EU leaders will once again gather for a European Council summit in mid-October, where they will discuss their negotiating stance towards the UK with a final agreement not expected until November.

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