Theresa May takes a Brexit battering after EU leaders tear up her Chequers plan

The shell-shocked PM took an extraordinary and unexpected savaging from Europe’s leaders at the dramatic end of a summit in Salzburg.

Visibly shaking with anger at them, Mrs May hit back to insist her blueprint is “the only serious and credible proposal on the table at the moment” to keep trade flowing freely.

But she also opened the door for the first time to dumping her bitterly criticised plan by challenging Brussels to come up with an alternative.

The public snub was a deep personal humiliation for her, as well as a catastrophic diplomatic failure for the UK, with blame for it levelled on senior No10 officials last night.

It also left Mrs May facing renewed fury from Tory Brexiteers who warned her Chequers would fail – and all just nine days before the start the Tories annual conference.

EU Council boss Donald Tusk issued the damning verdict after the 27 leaders met over lunch yesterday without Mrs May to consider her Chequers pitch to them on Wednesday night.

While insisting there are “positive elements” in her plan, Mr Tusk declared: “The suggested framework for economic cooperation will not work, not least because it risks undermining the Single Market".

He also gave Mrs May a month to come up with “maximum progress” before the next EU summit in October, and refused to set a date for en emergency summit to finalise any deal in November until she does.

The October showdown in Brussels will be “the moment of truth” for whether Brexit deal is possible, he added. French president Emmanuel Macron also heaped on the pain.

While dubbing Chequers “a good and brave step” at a compromise, he insisted it is still “not acceptable, especially on the economic side”. The broadsides mark the death of the PM’s two key free trading proposals – a common rule book on goods, and a close customs partnership.

Mrs May also lashed out to brand the EU’s rejection as “tactics in these negotiations” as she warned: “I’ve always said these negotiations will be tough. I'm negotiating and I'm negotiating hard in the interest of the British people, and to deliver on what the British people voted for in the referendum.”

But when asked by The Sun if she would dump Chequers, she refused to rule out the move, instead saying: “If there are concerns, let’s hear what they are”.

The PM also pledged to unveil a fresh proposal to unblock the Irish border backstop soon, which is believed to be a regulatory border down the Irish sea that will see no need for a new customs border there.

'New Vote' Fury

TORY MPs have accused EU chiefs of talking up hopes of a second referendum to delay Brexit.

Leavers hit out after Maltese PM Joseph Muscat and Czech president Andrej Babis backed Remainer calls for a rerun.

Muscat claimed support among the 27 other national bosses was “almost unanimous”. Former Cabinet minister Priti Patel hit back: “EU leaders are not on the side of the British people.”


Fellow Tory Marcus Fysh added: “It’s wishful thinking . . . and it has been holding up progress on the talks.”

Meanwhile, French president Emmanuel Macron said Brexiteers who claimed the UK would thrive outside the EU were “liars”.

Tory MP Stewart Jackson said the remarks show why Mr Macron has worse poll ratings than his predecessor, Francois Hollande.

Mrs May had been expecting warm words from EU leaders to keep her compromise plan afloat. But Brussels sources said she alienated the 27 over dinner by being too aggressive in her demands, and by failing to think she could go above EU negotiator Michel Barnier’s head with the direct appeal to them the Austrian city.

Downing Street claimed the public showdown was inevitable at some stage in the negotiation, as both sides try to call each other’s bluff to fold first.

A No10 source: “We always knew this moment was going to come, where we looked each other hard in the eye. Just maybe not quite yet”.

After the drubbing, Mrs May swiftly faced calls to abandon Chequers at the Tories’ annual gathering in Birmingham to save her leadership.

David Davis, who resigned as Brexit Secretary in protest at her new blueprint, said clinging on to her plan would only see her forced to make more concessions to the EU.

Mr Davis told The Sun: “It is clear what the EU tactics are now. Parliament was very unlikely to support Chequers, it certainly will not allow more than Chequers. Now is the time for the Prime Minister to reset the negotiation and take Tusks March offer of a free trade plus deal.”

Brexiteer MP Jacob Rees-Mogg added: "Chequers now has no supporters at all. I doubt even the Downing Street cat is any longer backing the Chequers plan."

And Pro-EU Tory MPs also savaged her, but demanded a different antidote.

Pro-EU former business minister Anna Soubry tweeted: “Having been nailed to its perch this #Chequers parrot is no more, it is bereft of life, it rests in peace, it is indeed an ex parrot. So let’s face #BrexitReality take the only responsible deal – Norway plus and put it all to @peoplesvote_uk

Earlier hopes yesterday of a rebellion by some EU leaders against the Brussels hard line, lead by Hungary’s Victor Orban, swiftly evaporated. Mr Orban insisted eurocrats are trying to “punish” the UK’s exit decision “and the British must suffer”. But even Mrs May’s close ally, Dutch PM Mark Rutte, chided her by saying the Netherlands have “made more preparations for a no deal than the UK”.

Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite dubbed the negotiatons as at “ standstill”.

Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis addedd: "I feel sorry for the UK."

The Sun Says

THE Fat Controller is the least ­popular figure in the Thomas The Tank Engine stories. Yet he is the most important.He decides what engines take the trains out and what carriages they have to haul. He sets the timetable and makes decisions over which engines should be scrapped.The problem with today’s railway ­system is that there is nobody who takes on the role.

That was made clear in the report by Professor Stephen Glaister, the chairman of the Office Of Rail And Road, into the chaos that paralysed the railways in May following an extensive timetable change.

In a logical world, you might think, dear rail passenger, that Chris Grayling, the Secretary Of State For Transport, is the man in charge.

After all, he is the one who pops up on TV when there is good news to announce, such as the opening of a refurbished ­station or the introduction of new trains, but you would be wrong.

Grayling refuses to take responsibility, recently telling a Parliamentary committee that “I don’t run the railways”. Yet his civil servants in the Department interfere with the railways all the time.

They make decisions over what ­services should be run, the fares to be charged, what new trains should be bought and which private company should operate them.

Prof Glaister’s report makes clear that Grayling was deeply involved in making the decision to go ahead with the timetable changes, even though the ­industry was not prepared for them.

If Grayling was not in charge, then he should have made sure that someone else was — but failed to do so.

It’s clear from the report no one has overall responsibility for the ­railways, and that’s why they are in such a mess.

Prof Glaister’s report highlights the fact that the railways were simply not ready to cope with the wholesale ­timetable changes, which were focused around ­services through London on the Thameslink lines and across the North, and ­overall affected nearly half — 46 per cent — of trains on the whole network.

The report shows that the railway ­simply could not cope. The changes brought the service to its knees, resulting in thousands of services being ­cancelled and countless others delayed.

Many passengers in May were left standing at stations for hours as ­successive trains failed to turn up.

On one branch line in the Lake District, services were cancelled entirely and temporarily replaced by a diesel-hauled heritage train — which proved to be more popular than the usual service, especially as it was free.

The introduction of the timetable resulted in the worst performance of the railways in more than a decade, with one in eight trains running late during this period.

The after-effects are still being felt today, with daily cancellations and delays, and it will be several months before things are back to normal.

Prof Glaister does not mince his words and found every part of the industry wanting. Network Rail, which is responsible for drawing up the timetable, “did not take any action” back in the autumn when it was clear there would be trouble ­implementing the new schedules.

Two train operators, Govia Thameslink and Northern, “were not sufficiently aware” of the problems and failed to inform passengers when disruption ­occurred, while the Department For Transport and the Office Of Rail And Road itself watched these events unfold without doing anything or questioning whether the introduction of the timetable should be postponed.

The irony is that the timetable changes were introduced to increase the number of trains available to commuters.

In ­particular, in the North, the opening of the new Ordsall Chord linking ­Manchester’s two main railway stations was designed to improve services in the region.

However, because Network Rail failed to ensure that more platforms were built at the biggest station, Piccadilly, rather than improvements for local passengers the result has been longer delays and ­numerous cancellations.

That is precisely the sort of lack of co-ordination which happens because ­British Rail was broken up on its privatisation in the 1990s into more than 100 companies. Passengers are paying the price for that mistake today.

The biggest error was to separate the services, run by companies including ­Virgin and Arriva, from the infrastructure, which is in the hands of Network Rail (originally Railtrack), when, in fact, the railways run much better as a single entity.

Ironically, the Prime Minister at the time, John Major, had wanted the railway to be sold off as just four or five large companies that ran services and were responsible for the tracks and stations, but he was overruled by the Treasury, which wanted competition between ­companies — something that has simply not happened.

As a result of the timetable chaos and other recent problems on the railways, such as the failure of the East Coast franchise and overspending on ­electrification schemes by Network Rail, Grayling has launched an inquiry into the state of the railways.

It is the fourth such inquiry in the past decade and the others have largely been ignored.

This time there is an obvious and clear solution. Create an organisation ­independent of the duffers in Whitehall who keep on interfering with the railways, and make sure it is headed by a Fat ­Controller who has power to make ­decisions over the whole railway, ­including the timetable, investment plans and ­services.

Inevitably, this will at first have to be a publicly-owned body, since Network Rail is currently owned by the Government.

But to appease any Tories opposed to renationalisation, Grayling could say that eventually it might be privatised — though given the experience of the crisis-ridden past 20 years, that day may well be a long time off.

  • Christian Wolmar is the author of a dozen books on the railways including Fire & Steam, How The Railways Transformed Britain. 

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