What is Chequers and why is Theresa May’s plan so divisive?

Prime Minister due to present her proposal to EU leaders next Thursday

Boris Johnson and Theresa May at cabinet

Final Cabinet talks on Theresa May’s Brexit plan are expected to go down to the wire before a crucial meeting of European Union leaders next Thursday.

Ministers have been told to schedule in a discussion on the so-called Chequers plan next Wednesday, just a day before the prime minister attends the European Council in Brussels, reports Channel 4 News.

It comes as former Brexit secretary David Davis has written to his fellow Tory MPs claiming that the current proposal for Brexit could have “dire” consequences for the party at the next general election.

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Despite a considerable number of Conservatives refusing to back the plan, May hopes to get the deal through the House of Commons with the help of a few dozen Labour MPs.

They would be defying their leader Jeremy Corbyn, who said his party would only back Chequers if May was willing to keep the UK in a customs union and protect workers’ rights after Brexit.

Meanwhile, the DUP, whom the Tories rely on for a working majority in the Commons, has this week repeated its warning to EU leaders that it will not support any deal that leads to an economic border between Northern Ieland and the rest of the UK. Its leader Arlene Foster has said she is still waiting to see May’s final proposal on the issue.

What is the Chequers plan?

The Government’s Brexit white paper covers four areas: economic partnership, security partnership, future areas of cooperation such as aviation and nuclear power, and the frameworks needed to enforce the agreement.

It is “aimed at ensuring trade cooperation, with no hard border for Northern Ireland, and global trade deals for the UK”, explains the BBC.

The white paper acknowledges that the UK will have more barriers to trade once it leaves the EU, and gives additional details on the Government’s latest proposed customs system: the Facilitated Customs Arrangement, in which the UK will collect tariffs on behalf of the EU.

On agriculture and trade the UK and EU would agree a “common rulebook for all goods including agri-foods”, with British ministers committing in a treaty to ongoing harmonisation with EU rules when necessary to provide for frictionless trade at ports and the border with Ireland.

The UK Parliament “would have the ability to choose not to incorporate future rules”, says iNews, but the government accepts there would be “consequences” for trade.

The agreement says it will end free movement of people “giving the UK back control over how many people enter the country”. A “mobility framework” will be set up to allow UK and EU citizens to travel to each other's territories, and apply for study and work.

In her foreword, May insists that the UK will leave the single market, customs union, common agricultural policy and the commons fisheries policy, “take back control of our money, laws, and borders, and begin a new exciting chapter in our nation’s history”. The European Court of Justice will no longer have jurisdiction in Britain, she says.

However, she acknowledges that the withdrawal “requires pragmatism and compromise from both sides”.

How did the Chequers plan get its name?

The white paper is officially named The Future Relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union. However, it is nicknamed the Chequers plan because it was agreed by the Cabinet at Chequers, the PM’s country residence.

Which MPs oppose Chequers?

Former Brexit secretary David Davis and former foreign secretary Boris Johnson both resigned following the Chequers meeting. Johnson has repeatedly spoken out against the plan, describing it as a “suicide vest” for the British constitution.

Several other MPs also quit their ministerial posts over the issue, including Maria Caulfield, Ben Bradley and Robert Courts.

Tory backbencher Jacob Rees-Mogg has been a loud voice of the rebellion, urging his party to “chuck Chequers”. Fellow backbenchers Bernard Jenkin and Owen Paterson are also said to be against the plan as it stands.

Former Brexit minister Steve Baker - who also quit in July in protest at the plan - claims that at least 80 MPs are ready to vote against the proposals in the Commons.

Warning that the Tory party faces a “catastrophic split” over Chequers, he said May would have to rely on Labour votes if she was unable to persuade her MPs to back the plan.

So who backs it?

While support for Chequers appears to be dwindling, for now it still has the backing of Chancellor Philip Hammond, Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab and, crucially, Environment Secretary and co-leader of Vote Leave Michael Gove.

Justice Secretary David Gauke has also thrown his weight behind the paper, arguing it is the best way to deliver on the referendum result while respecting the Good Friday Agreement.

What is the alternative?

Many of those openly opposed to Chequers, including Davis, Johnson and Rees-Mogg have backed a rival plan for a “basic” Canada-style free trade agreement drawn up by free-market think tank the Institute for Economic Affairs (IEA).

The IEA recommends a new Anglo-Irish backstop agreement to preserve the open border; the elimination of tariffs and quotas on all products the UK does not produce, including foodstuffs that cannot be grown here; and that free movement from the EU is replaced by a worldwide system that “recognises the economic and social benefits and costs of immigration”.

However, the plan has been met with heavy scepticism from trade experts who question whether its numbers add up.

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