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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

Biden to announce plan to distribute 400 million masks for free

Photo: Ken Cedeno/UPI/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Biden administration will announce Wednesday that 400 million non-surgical N95 masks will be made available to the public for free at thousands of "convenient locations" across the U.S.

Why it matters: This is the largest deployment of personal protective equipment in U.S. history, according to a White House official. The masks are slated to be available at numerous local pharmacies.

Tina Reed, author of Vitals
52 mins ago - Health

The end of the Omicron wave is in sight

Expand chart
Data: Our World in Data; Chart: Baidi Wang/Axios

The Omicron wave is likely beginning to recede in the U.S., experts say.

Why it matters: Omicron is still wreaking havoc in parts of the country, but infectious disease experts are optimistic that relief is around the corner.

NASA estimates Tonga volcano exploded with force of 5-6 megatons

A satellite image of Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha’apai volcano on Dec. 24, before the eruption. Photo: Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Technologies

NASA scientists estimate the power of Tonga's volcanic eruption over the weekend to have been 5-6 Megatons of TNT equivalent.

Threat level: Saturday's eruption of the Hunga Tonga Hunga Haʻapai volcano and subsequent tsunami killed at least three people. Scientists warn an "ash-seawater cocktail" poses a potentially toxic health threat, and drinking water could be contaminated.

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