Ahead of the summit, politicians and commentators weren’t expecting the informal gathering of European leaders in Austria to yield a major step forward in negotiations, but it does appear to have been significant, as it has seemingly marked the death of UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s Chequers plan.
Chequers or Nothing
Since the Chequers Brexit plan was devised and presented earlier this year it has been criticized and staunchly opposed by many domestic trade bodies and UK politicians, including Tory MPs and cabinet ministers.
PM May has shrugged off extensive criticism of her proposals, repeatedly insisting that a hard Brexit is the only viable alternative to her Chequers plan.
However, with European Council President Donald Tusk today saying the plan “won’t work”, echoing EU Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier’s earlier comments, an impasse has been reached, so, to salvage any hopes of pulling Britain out of the bloc in an orderly fashion, May needs to swiftly move on from Chequers.
The Independent newspaper has been at the forefront of this effort, launching its Final Say campaign in July with cross-party support.
Again, the prime minister has ruled out giving the electorate another vote, reaffirming her stance on the matter on Wednesday in Salzburg, saying, "I want to be absolutely clear, this government will never accept a second referendum."
With the informal Salzburg summit over, the British government will continue to make contingency plans for a hard Brexit while negotiating with Brussels, though it is difficult to see how talks can progress unless May shifts her stance away from Chequers.
Some politicians have suggested delaying Brexit to give negotiators more time to hammer out a deal, but May has also expressed her opposition to this, so the UK is still on course to withdraw from the union in March 2019, with or without a deal.