Cast your mind back to summer last year. The Cabinet gathered at the Prime Minister’s country retreat of Chequers, on the sylvan Chiltern downs. There was very important business: Theresa May, flanked by senior civil servant Olly Robbins, presented the draft agreement for Britain’s departure from the EU. For the first time, ministers (including Brexit secretary David Davis and foreign secretary Boris Johnson) saw the proposed terms – and the extent to which May would abide by her pledge of ‘Brexit means Brexit’. The chief whip instructed that nobody could leave without consenting to the Withdrawal Agreement, unless they resigned – and must then find their way home without ministerial transport.
For Leavers in the Cabinet, it was a shocker. Scarcely anything appropriate for a renewed sovereign nation could be found in this document, which seemed an abject surrender to Messrs Barnier and Juncker. For Brexit voters, it was hard to believe that their government would consider such punitive clauses; their faith in Theresa May, until then buoyant, was shattered. And this document, we were told, was only the initial negotiating stance – it could get worse. In the morass since the referendum on 23rd June 2016, this has been the most significant subsequent event to date.
It was widely reported that Theresa May paid a visit to Angela Merkel in Berlin shortly before the Chequers meeting. What did they discuss? We weren’t told at the time…
According to a confidential source who has seen a complete transcript of the meeting, the two leaders agreed to a plan that Mrs May allegedly told the Chancellor would “appease” Brexit voters while nonetheless enabling her to get rid of those Tories who were (in her words) “against progress and unity in the EU.” According to the transcript, Mrs May is also reported to have agreed “to keep as many EU laws and institutions in effect as she could despite the current groundswell of anti-EU hysteria in Britain” (again, apparently her words). It is claimed that both leaders agreed that the only realistic future for the UK was as a member of the EU, and that in the likely course of events Britain would re-join the EU in full at some time after the next general election.