This week has ended dramatically with the PM, humiliated following the EU summit in Salzburg, making a statement in Downing Street. We all know what happened last time she did that. Thankfully this time, there was a crest on the podium, and what followed was a bold ultimatum to the EU: respect the UK and provide us with a detailed alternative proposal to Chequers.
Let's face it - we've not seen many moments of Theresa May being prime ministerial, but this was one. Clearly seething following her treatment in Salzburg, she rebuked Donald Tusk. "I will not break up my country" she said, in response to proposals for a customs border in the Irish Sea. No doubt the long list of Tories speaking out against her Chequers proposal demonstrated to her that she needed to show some backbone ahead of Tory conference and, for once, she didn't disappoint.
With time running out for the prime minister, the prospect of 'no deal' is getting likelier by the minute, but she seemed unfazed. Again with the mantra "no deal is better than a bad deal" - the only way forward is for the EU to make a counter-proposal.
At Salzburg the EU seemed entirely united: even the talks on the touchy issue of migration seem to have been more productive than the Brexit negotiations. The question is: how will they respond now?
As before, it is the Northern Ireland 'backstop' continues to cause headaches. This is the main bone of contention and is the reason behind the horribly complex arrangements on customs contained within the Chequers proposals. With the ERG last week proposing an alternative solution, backed by the DUP, and with the EU continuing to call for movement on the issue, pressure was building on the prime minister ahead of Salzburg to find a solution which everyone can agree to.
Yesterday, the PM was caught telling the Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar that there would be no revised proposal on the Irish border question by the time of the next EU summit on 18 October. That came after she reportedly dismissed Michel Barnier's latest attempt at a compromise out of hand, without even reading it. Perhaps she could have used those moments while on hold waiting for Jean-Claude Juncker more productively (thank you to BBC Panorama for that gem).
Yet the prime minister's statement today makes clear that, in her view, the EU isn't moving far enough. Until they do we will remain in an impasse.
Dead as a Dodo
According to Mike Penning MP, an ally of Theresa May and former minister, the Chequers proposals were 'dead as a dodo' at the start of the week. Donald Tusk stated unequivocally at the summit in Salzburg that Chequers just "will not work." No cherries on top of the cake, he quipped on social media, leaving May absolutely fuming. Perhaps in the context of today's statement he might have wished he hadn't stoked the fire.
Dates have already been set for an extraordinary summit in November, in case an agreement can't be reached in October which, let's face it, seems likely at this stage. There was also talk in Salzburg of a decision on the withdrawal agreement slipping to December, maybe even January next year. The fact is that, unless the EU comes up with a workable response which addresses the two major sticking points Chequers was designed to resolve, we are likely to see Britain exiting the EU without an agreement.
An exotic spersm
In lighter news, the Liberal Democrat conference took place in Brighton at the start of the week and held a lot of promise: Vince Cable's call to open up his party to likeminded moderates seemed to herald the beginning of a movement. It was warmly welcomed outside the party, and there was a certain amount of anticipation that the Lib Dems could become a voice for the moderate centre, spearheading an anti-Brexit movement.
Yet the membership was split and Cable's unfortunate fumble during his speech on Tuesday only added to a sense that this fledgling idea was more of an 'exotic spersm' than the answer moderates were hoping for. With the Labour Party conference coming up this weekend, those looking for any form of political stability should look away now.
Sarah Jones, Managing Director, Public Affairs