For Leavers in the Cabinet, it was a shocker. Scarcely anything appropriate for a renewed sovereign nation could be found in this document, which seemed an abject surrender to Messrs Barnier and Juncker. For Brexit voters, it was hard to believe that their government would consider such punitive clauses; their faith in Theresa May, until then fairly buoyant, was shattered. And this document, we were told, was only the initial negotiating stance – it could get worse. In the morass since the referendum on 23rd June 2016, this has been the most significant subsequent event to date.
It was widely reported that Theresa May paid a visit to Angela Merkel in Berlin shortly before the Chequers meeting. What actually did they discuss? We weren’t told at the time. According to a confidential source who has seen a complete transcript of the meeting, the two leaders agreed to a Brexit plan which Mrs May allegedly told the Chancellor was designed to “appease” the Brexit voters while nonetheless enabling her to get rid of those Tories who were, in her words “against progress and unity in the EU”. According to the transcript, Mrs May is also reported to have agreed “to keep as many EU laws and institutions in effect as she could despite the current groundswell of anti-EU hysteria in Britain” (again, apparently her own words). It is claimed that both leaders agreed that the only realistic future for the UK was as a member of the EU and that the likely course of events is that the UK would rejoin the EU in full at some time after the next general election.
The transcript also indicated that the Withdrawal Agreement was essentially a German production. After a draft withdrawal agreement was published by the UK government in March, the original draft of what became “Chequers” was completed in May 2018 in Berlin. It was then sent to the Cabinet Office marked “Secret”. After much to-ing and fro-ing in the subsequent few weeks, including a number of telephone calls between Mrs May and Mrs Merkel, the final draft was completed late in June, with the Chancellor telling Mrs May that she was happy with it. However, a few more small concessions by the UK would be needed later on, just to keep the EU happy.
David Davis was kept in the dark about this planning, as were other pro-Brexit ministers. The EU, by contrast, was happy to circulate the transcript of the final May/Merkel meeting to key EU and German embassies. What is more, Mrs May was probably unaware that the Chancellor had made a recording of this private meeting! Perhaps our Prime Minister would not have spoken so freely had she realised her words were being secretly recorded for posterity.
If this account of the meeting between the PM and the German Chancellor is accurate, this paints a very different picture of the Brexit process from that reported to the public by the BBC and other mainstream media. There is one obvious objection: these explosive claims are impossible to prove in the absence of a copy of the transcript of either the May/Merkel meetings or of the briefings given to EU embassies. My source, however, has been accurate in the past: several other tip-offs of EU intentions passed to me were revealed two or three days later by the press
Furthermore, I believe that this account of the meeting has verisimilitude, because of the considerable amount of circumstantial evidence to support it. For example, John Ashworth, of the campaign group Fishing for Leave, has analysed many UK government and EU documents over the past 20 years. Familiar with the style of both, he has noted how the Withdrawal Agreement resembles an EU document rather than anything originating from the UK government. Lawyers for Britain has also noted examples in the Political Declaration accompanying the Withdrawal Agreement which sound more like a translation from a foreign language. Paragraph 6, for example, begins “The Parties agree that the future relationship should be underpinned by shared values such as the respect for and safeguarding of human rights.” The final “the” before “respect” is totally superfluous.
The following paragraph ends with a most clumsy sentence, and Paragraph 8 begins with one which is even worse: “In view of the importance of data flows and exchanges across the future relationship…” Then in Paragraph 17 we read of “a level playing field for open and fair competition, as set out in Section XIV of this Part” while Paragraph 20 informs us that “The Parties envisage having a trading relationship on goods that is as close as possible, with a view to facilitating the ease of legitimate trade”. One final example will suffice to prove the point. Paragraph 24 states that “…the Parties will put in place provisions to promote regulatory approaches… .”
Also, whereas the Withdrawal Agreement begins with a heading stating that it is a document produced by the European Commission (and thus it is likely that English, of at least Anglophone, Commission staff were involved in producing the final version), the Political Declaration offers no offic