THE clock is ticking and the pressure to get a good deal is intense. Essential weapons include sharp elbows, a laser focus and an ability to cut through rubbish offers dressed up as the bargain of the century.
I’m not talking about Black Friday — the biggest shopping day of the year — but rather the Prime Minister’s quest to fix a decent Brexit divorce deal by the end of the week. And if she’s to avoid buyer’s remorse, Theresa May will need all the steely determination of a top-class bargain hunter.
Yesterday we finally got a glimpse of what the draft deal for the future relationship with the EU would look like. New elements include a specific reference to ending free movement, a determination to use technological solutions to solve the Irish border problem and a continuing role for the European Court of Justice in the interpretation of EU law.
Every choice has a consequence. Just like your Christmas shopping, if you go big on presents for Auntie Mabel, you’ll have to cut back what you give to Uncle Stuart.
Theresa May’s biggest red line is on immigration — free movement of people must end after Brexit. Her challenge has always been trying to negotiate an agreement that ends free movement and does as little economic damage as possible at the same time.
The prime minister will travel to a summit on Sunday to try to get the plan signed off by EU leaders. Some of them (most notably Spain) have already intimated they don’t like what they have seen so far.
When she returns to the UK, she faces an even tougher battle to sell her plan to MPs. Brexiteers, Remainers and — perhaps most of all — the DUP, are all deeply suspicious that they are about to be hung out to dry and that Mrs May has prioritised other people as she hunts for a deal.
Speaking on the steps of Downing Street yesterday, the PM said: ‘This is the right deal for the UK. It delivers on the vote of the referendum… That deal is within our grasp and I’m determined to deliver it.’ Last week when I interviewed her on Sophy Ridge on Sunday, she told me: ‘Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.’
The prime minister may believe a deal is within her grasp, but like the hottest Black Friday bargains, it can be snatched from her fingers at the last minute.
Theory that only works if we keep it a secret…
Last week I suggested in this column there was only one way that Theresa May’s fragile Brexit deal could pass the House of Commons: MPs vote it down the first time. The markets crash, businesses wail and politicians start to panic. When it’s put to parliament for the second time, it goes through.
Well, the government must be full of Metro readers because the idea is quickly gaining credence.
The so-called TARP theory (Troubled Asset Relief Program) — named after the US scheme to bail out banks after the 2008 crash — was reported in The Sunday Times and on ITV, and was speculated on by George Osborne’s former adviser. It was first suggested to me by a former cabinet minister, who is extremely plugged in to the ways of Westminster.
There’s only one problem, though. The more the idea is talked about, the less likely it is that it will happen.
In order for the TARP scenario to work, the markets need to crash after MPs vote down the Brexit deal because they’re scared of leaving the EU without an agreement.
However, if the markets are expecting MPs to vote for the deal the second time around, they won’t be frightened by the prospect of no deal, and so they won’t crash.
Which would be, er, a bit of a problem…
Live show is summit special
How do you top a show which features live studio interviews with both the prime minister and the leader of the opposition? Last week on Sophy Ridge on Sunday, I interviewed Theresa May for 20 minutes as she tried to sell her plan to the country (and her own MPs).
Changing leader now, she argued, would only risk delaying or frustrating Brexit. Jeremy Corbyn insisted Labour would vote down the PM’s deal and that a second referendum was an ‘option for the future’ but not for now.
I’m travelling to Brussels for a live Sky broadcast from that critical EU summit. Join me on Sunday at 9am.