Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

With her Conservative Party's annual conference looming later this month, U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May went to Salzburg this week seeking buy-in from Europe's leaders for her highly controversial Chequers plan. What she got instead was humiliation and disaster.

What's happening: The Chequers plan was always unacceptable to Brexiteers in May's Cabinet: Both her Brexit secretary and her foreign secretary resigned rather than sign on to it. As such, it was always going to be hard to get it through the U.K. Parliament. Now, Europe's leaders have made it abundantly clear that the plan is even less acceptable to the EU.

  • May took office in 2016 with a single mandate: to deliver a workable Brexit. The message of Salzburg is that she's incapable of delivering on that mandate.

Be smart: The U.K.'s ties to Europe, especially along the Irish border, are far too complex and interconnected to easily disentangle. A successfully negotiated Brexit was always less likely than one of the corner solutions.

  • A "no deal" hard Brexit would be bad for Europe and disastrous for the U.K., despite May's continued assertions that it would be preferable to a "bad deal."
  • A "remain" deal, where the U.K. changes its mind, is still on the table, at least as far as the EU's leaders are concerned. The problem is that May has consistently ruled out a second referendum.
  • The Europeans are past masters at kicking the can down the road, but it's increasingly hard to see how they'll be able to kick this one any further than the March 2019 Brexit deadline.

May's political career has already lasted longer than anybody thought it would, largely thanks to the absence of a credible alternative prime minister. But May has now lost all credibility herself.

The bottom line: We are very close to the worst-case scenario for Brexit negotiations where positions become entrenched, goodwill evaporates and brinkmanship leads inexorably to disaster.

  • The chances of Britain and the U.K. successfully "muddling through" beyond March 2019 have never been lower.

Go deeper: May's way or the highway for Brexit.

Go deeper

What Matters 2020

The missed opportunities for 2020 and beyond

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photos: Jason Armond (Los Angeles Times), Noam Galai, Jabin Botsford (The Washington Post), Alex Wong/Getty Images

As the 2020 presidential campaign draws to a close, President Trump and Joe Biden have focused little on some of the most sweeping trends that will outlive the fights of the moment.

Why it matters: Both have engaged on some issues, like climate change and China, on their own terms, and Biden has addressed themes like economic inequality that work to his advantage. But others have gone largely unmentioned — a missed opportunity to address big shifts that are changing the country.

Updated 4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Politics: Pence chief of staff Marc Short tests positive for coronavirus — COVID-19 looms over White House Halloween celebrations
  2. Health: Fauci says maybe we should mandate masks if people don't wear them — America was sick well before it ever got COVID-19
  3. World: Polish President Andrzej Duda tests positive for COVID-19.

Pence chief of staff Marc Short tests positive for coronavirus

Marc Short with Katie Miller, Vice President Pence's communications director, in March. Photo: Doug Mills/The New York Times via Reuters

Marc Short, Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff, tested positive for the coronavirus Saturday and is quarantining, according to a White House statement.

Why it matters: Short is Pence's closest aide, and was one of the most powerful forces on the White House coronavirus task force.

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