Brexit showdown looms, online article

Samantha Hawley, ABC News, October 1, 2018
British Prime Minister Theresa May speaks in front of UK flags
UK Prime Minister Theresa May faces a battle to reunite her party at the Tory conference.(AP: Jack Taylor/Pool Photo)

British Prime Minister Theresa May will head to this week's Conservative Party conference a wounded leader, hoping to reassure a nation and reunite a deeply divided party.

The four-day gathering got underway in Birmingham on Sunday, with Ms May's speech scheduled for the final day.

On the sidelines, the likes of the former foreign secretary Boris Johnson have been actively working against her.

Mr Johnson used a newspaper interview to declare Theresa May's plan to exit the EU as "deranged".

And with just six months to go before Britain departs the European Union, Mrs May's so-called Chequers plan is in tatters, and she will have to work hard to convince the party faithful otherwise.

The white paper would see Britain continue to have some close ties to the EU, including a "common rulebook" for all goods (but not services) traded with the EU, and a combined customs territory to enable the easy trade of goods between the EU and the UK.

It would end the free movement of people but still allow citizens to continue to work and study in respective countries.

Chequers also states that there would be no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, which will still be in the EU.

But in a damaging and humiliating blow for Mrs May, European leaders rejected the plan during a meeting in the Austrian city of Salzburg a fortnight ago.

That meeting was widely dubbed an ambush, and it left the Prime Minister further bruised.

She hit back, accusing the bloc leaders of creating an impasse and demanding her Government be treated with respect.

It is expected her conference speech on October 3 will be similarly combative.

The Labour opposition also rejected the Chequers deal at its party conference in Liverpool last week and some members of the Conservative Party have said they will vote against it if it is brought to the Parliament.

Ms May has argued the Chequers deal is the only credible plan on the table, but says no deal at all is better than a bad deal.

Donald Tusk Salzburg
EU Council President Donald Tusk says Ms May's Brexit plan is unworkable(AP: Kerstin Joensson)

'Nightmare scenario' if no deal is struck

A no-deal scenario would see the UK leave the EU on March 29 next year with no agreement in place.

Jill Rutter, the program director for Brexit at the Institute for Government, said this would be one of the worst situations for the country.

"The worst-case scenario is that things drag on, and it becomes very clear very late in day that we aren't going to be able to reach a deal," Ms Rutter told the ABC.

"That's the real nightmare scenario."

UK demonstrators don pro-EU garb
In the event of a no deal, the UK could be out of the EU by March 29 next year.(ABC News)

It is a possibility for Ms May to announce she will proceed with a no-deal option, giving the nation time to prepare for the consequences, which could include temporary food shortages.

But if that's not decided ahead of time and negotiations break down at the last minute, the UK could crash out of the union, which businesses have warned against.

It is feared that will lead to the UK's ports and airports being thrown into chaos, and even a shortage in medicines as well as perishable foods.

May's leadership is safe for now, but Boris is lurking

UK's Former foreign secretary Boris Johnson
Britain's former foreign secretary Boris Johnson has been posturing to replace Ms May as leader.(AP: Matt Dunham)

Theresa May's leadership is safe for now because staunch Brexiteers who have argued the Prime Minister's plan ties the UK too closely to EU rules and regulations don't have the numbers to successfully bring a no-confidence motion against her.

Matt Bevington, from the research initiative The UK In A Changing Europe, said he believed this would be Ms May's last conference as leader and that she will be under intense pressure.

"The conference is probably going to be another step towards the undermining of her leadership," Mr Bevington said.

Ever flamboyant, Mr Johnson quit the Cabinet in protest of the Chequers proposal and has since used his own newspaper column to argue the case against it.

Headlines this month about adultery and his marriage breakdown have not stopped his campaign.

Last week Mr Johnson argued for a 'Super Canada-style' free trade deal that would have zero tariffs and zero quotas on trade between the UK and EU.

He said it would not lead to a hard Irish border, but critics have said it would create more border checks than there currently are now.

The conference will provide a theatrical platform for the former foreign secretary to push his agenda and distract from Mrs May's message.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn wearing a suit and red tie
Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party is backing the idea of a second Brexit referendum.(AP: Francisco Seco)

The Labour party last week reignited the idea of a second referendum, with its party conference in Liverpool voting unanimously for a people's vote, with the option to stay in the EU on the table.

Labour says it would prefer a general election rather than a vote, but Ms May has ruled out both a second referendum and an early election.

Businesses stuck wondering what will happen next

Across the country the uncertainty of how Brexit will play out is seen in almost every sector.

In the Essex town of Stanford-le-Hope, builder Azad Asma spoke nervously about his future.

Business is booming, but Brexit is casting a shadow over his 32-man workforce, of which 60 per cent are European nationals.

The 9-million-pound luxury homes he is building now should be attractive to buyers, with views across the green countryside and only an hour by train to central London.

Builder Azad Asma is worried about his future with so much uncertainty with the Brexit.
Builder Azad Asma is worried about his future with so much uncertainty with Brexit.(ABC News: Lincoln Rothall)

But already Mr Asma's workforce is dropping. Brexit and the uncertainty surrounding a Brexit deal saw four of his builders not return from Europe after the summer break.

"Simply because there's no future here for them, or the future is uncertain for them," he told the ABC.

"Now it wouldn't surprise me if that team talk to their colleagues and say, 'Listen, what are you doing in the UK? If you want to plan ahead, if you want a future with your family, then the UK is not the place to stay'."

The prospect that Ms May won't reach a deal with her European counterparts is concerning Australian art dealer Adrian Mibus, who has lived and traded in London for 30 years.

"There may be a long-term effect if the politicians do sort of mess things around. God knows what they can do," he said.

From his Whitford Fine Art gallery in central London, Mr Mibus said no deal would mean returning to the 1970s, before the Common Market was introduced.

Australian art dealer Adrian Mibus holds a painting
Australian art dealer Adrian Mibus doesn't know how his industry will work post-Brexit.(ABC News)

"Since we have been in the European Community it has been a dream — just toss things in the car and away you go," he said.

"We just did a fair in Paris and came back on the same day."

He said customs checks at the borders would be dire, and the uncertainty would lead to a downturn in trade.

The crucial quarterly meeting of European leaders will be held on October 18 and 19 Brussels.

Banners at a pro-EU rally in the UK
Almost every business sector in the UK is dealing with uncertainty over how Brexit will play out.(ABC News)
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