In Depth

Will Chequers plan be abandoned after Brexit?

Michael Gove says May’s deal is ‘the right one for now’ but could be altered by a future PM

Michael Gove is urging MPs to support Theresa May’s controversial Chequers plan, claiming the deal could be undone once the UK has left the European Union.

The environment secretary, one of the leading members of the Vote Leave campaign, signed up to the prime minister’s Brexit plan at her Chequers retreat in July. Fellow Cabinet Brexiteers David Davis and Boris Johnson quit days later in protest at the proposal, which would see Britain accept EU rules on goods while setting its own standards for services.

However, Gove told the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show that the plan is the “right one for now” - before caveating that “a future prime minister could always choose to alter the relationship between Britain and the European Union”.

He called on other MPs to see through Britain’s exit rather than risk an impasse in Parliament, or a general election, saying that the UK has to “take advantage of the opportunities of being outside the European Union”.

Admitting that he was unhappy with parts of the proposal, Gove added: “I have to qualify one or two of my views. I have to acknowledge the parliamentary arithmetic.”

Politico’s Jack Blanchard believes that Gove - one of the “more pragmatic Brexiteers” - aims to “get Britain out of the EU by whatever means necessary and then attempt to loosen ties with Brussels at some future time... presumably when the Tories actually have a decent majority in Parliament”.

Housing Minister Kit Malthouse also appears to endorse that tactic. Appearing on BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour last night, Malthouse said: “I think it [the Chequers plan] gets us over the line. And as far as I’m concerned as a Leave voter, it’s sufficient for the moment, given the maths in Parliament.”

Gove’s intervention came hours before former Cabinet colleague Boris Johnson launched yet another broadside against the proposals, suggesting that ministers had been misled about the implications of the Irish backstop agreement.

The British government agreed last December that if the EU was not satisfied with the arrangements for the border, Northern Ireland would become part of the EU customs union and large parts of its single market. In his now weekly excoriation of May’s plan in his column for The Daily Telegraph, Johnson writes that ministers had been told it was “only hypothetical… we were taken in”.

By agreeing to the Irish backstop, he continues, May has paved the way for a “spectacular political car crash”. Johnson calls the Chequers plan a “constitutional abomination” and says that any deal must allow “gradual regulatory divergence between the UK and Ireland”.

In a bid to counter such concerns, Downing Street is “seeking a political declaration on the future EU-UK relationship which states the Irish backstop plan will never be needed, and that both sides will negotiate a free trade area between the EU and the whole UK”, says the Financial Times.

However, the declaration “would not be legally binding”, and officials “are searching for a legally operative backstop in case no free trade area is agreed”, adds the newspaper.

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