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Analysis: What was Theresa May’s Brexit statement all about?

Prime Minister Theresa May arrives to make a statement on Brexit negotiations with the European Union at 10 Downing Street.
Prime Minister Theresa May arrives to make a statement on Brexit negotiations with the European Union at 10 Downing Street.

Theresa May was humiliated by the out-of-hand rejection of her Chequers plan by EU leaders in Salzburg.

She was then ridiculed by European Council president Donald Tusk publishing a picture of him offering the Prime Minister cake, captioning it with “no cherries” in a reference to her attempts to seek to retain the best bits of EU membership.

After such a brusque dismissal in Austria, Mrs May could have gone to ground and let the political story switch to Labour’s muddled position on Brexit as their conference gets underway in Liverpool.

But she decided to strike back immediately with her most barbed comments to EU leaders yet.

In a terse tone that bordered on belligerent, she accused them of disrespecting the UK, in a clear expression of her fury at the way she was personally treated by her counterparts in Salzburg.

The PM is digging in with her Chequers plan, while reinforcing her willingness to pull the trigger on a no deal.

She does so despite nearly everyone who matters believing Chequers is dead – the EU, her Brexiteer MPs and a wide cross-section of the Commons, including Remain supporters on her benches.

But she is continuing to flog this deal, hoping some of the more receptive leaders in the EU27 have the ear of the others.

At one time her weakness domestically was seen as her strength in Brexit negotiations.

The theory went the EU would bail her out by offering her a good deal, to avoid her being replaced with an uncompromising Brexiteer like Boris Johnson.

That thawing has not been realised. And the Conservative leader’s pugnacious speech, while short on taking the negotiation forward, starts the firing gun for an escalation of a war of words. That is not an atmosphere conducive to compromise.

A Chequers deal, or even something close to it, now looks markedly less likely than no deal at all.

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