In Brief

Brexit: Chequers deal or no deal ‘only options’, says Lidington

Cabinet Office Minister tells French business it is too late to go back to drawing board

Theresa May’s de facto deputy has warned that the only alternative to the Prime Minister’s Chequers plan is a no deal Brexit.

Speaking to French businesses, Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington issued a take-it-or-leave it ultimatum, saying there was no time left to go back to the drawing board if the EU rejected the UK government’s Brexit proposal.

France is seen as one of the more intractable EU nations in the Brexit negotiations, willing to hold Britain’s feet to the fire and risk the UK crashing out without an agreement, in order to secure a more favourable final deal that would also serve as a warning to other nations thinking about leaving the bloc.

The scepticism of the French government prompted May to fly out to the holiday home of the country's staunch Europhile President Emmanuel Macron earlier this month to try and win him over.

Stressing the common values and interests of the UK and France, Lidington said: “I truly feel that we are at a fork in the road. There are trends on both sides of the Channel, both sides of the North Sea, and both sides of the Atlantic that could see us drift apart.”

Striking a more conciliatory tone, he sought to allay concerns that the UK could slash regulation post-Brexit in a bid to gain a competitive edge against its European counterparts.

His view that economic growth, consumer and worker protection, and sustainable development “go together hand in hand, not as trade-offs” is “likely to concern some Brexiters, for whom leaving the EU should be an opportunity to cut back on what they see as cumbersome regulation”, says The Guardian.

Conversely, the newspaper says, “the commitment not to flout the EU’s approach to state aid may also concern Labour, with Jeremy Corbyn keen to exploit the added leeway Brexit could allow to provide more support to struggling industries”.

There are just seven months to go until Britain formally leaves the EU. However, Bloomberg reports that both the UK and EU have dropped their October deadline for a deal, and now aim to finalise divorce terms by the middle of November at the latest.

“The longer timeframe is another indication that negotiators are struggling to make headway,” it says, “and the risk is that the closer talks run to the UK’s exit on 29 March, the greater the chance that there won’t be a deal”.

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