Theresa May adds little detail to Brexit negotiations

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Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit speech today from Mansion House, London, was billed as her biggest Brexit announcement since her Florence September 2017 speech, when she said she wanted a two year transitional period from day one of Brexit (WikiTribune). Commentators say she was tasked with delivering a realistic Brexit vision beyond the UK having its cake and eating it, and the Secretary of State for Transport, Chris Grayling, had even warned May would recognise in this speech that Brexit “is not about cherry-picking.”

Today she set out five tests for any Brexit deal, but provided little detail beyond the exerts Downing Street already published last night, despite her and 11 senior ministers preparing for this speech at an eight-hour Brexit discussion at the PM’s country retreat a week ago.

She didn’t discuss her position that Northern Ireland can’t be part of any customs union, which risks peace in Northern Ireland according to some political commentators (The Guardian). This was after Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s recent announcement that Labour supports ‘a’ customs union and Remain-supporting Conservative MPs, Anna Soubry and Ken Clarke’s recently proposing amendments that the UK remains in some sort of customs union, which she could be defeated by (Financial Times).  European Council President Donald Tusk told her she needed to come up with a “better deal” during her meeting with him yesterday.

Their meeting was after the EU released its draft Brexit treaty on Wednesday, which reconfirmed the EU’s position (first reported by the FT) that the only way to avoid a “hard border” between Ireland and Northern Ireland, and preventing risking undermining the Good Friday peace agreement, is to keep Northern Ireland in the customs union and the single market. The draft Brexit treaty also said the UK would be bound to UK-EU court rulings into the 2030s and beyond; and questioned whether the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar would be covered by a transition deal (Financial Times).  Much of what she said in her speech went against the EU’s draft Brexit treaty. Here’s what she said:

Key points from May’s speech:

  • “We are leaving the single market, life is going to be different.” However, she said Brexit will reduce access to the single market in some respects, implying she plans the UK will still have some access to it. But the EU has said no “cherry picking on single market” so freedom of movement which May is against, would have to continue.
  • Reconfirmed previous position that the “jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in the UK must end.
  • UK will make binding commitments for regulations to remain in step with EU ones in some areas.
  • Rejected claim the UK is ‘cherry picking’, saying all trade deals are bespoke.
  • Wants freedom for UK to negotiate its own trade deals with EU but Brexit treaty guidelines say this isn’t possible.
  • Doesn’t want to lower standards for goods but there has to be an agreement on customs which allows the UK to not abide by the EU’s common external tariff (The Guardian).
  • Still wants frictionless trade and an end to freedom of movement (the ability for EU citizens to move freely between EU countries) – something the EU has said is not possible.

Reactions (To be added)

Time is running out

The UK now has just over one year left to negotiate a deal with the EU after May triggered Article 50 in March 2017. However, European Chief Negotiator for Brexit Michel Barnier, has said the Article 50 deal will have to be negotiated by October 2018 to give the European Parliament time to vote on it. This would leave the UK with seven months left to agree on a final Brexit deal.

If after March 2019 ‘no deal’ is reached the UK will automatically revert to World Trade Organisation (WTO) trading rules, unless the EU agrees to the UK’s proposed two year transitional period. WTO rules would mean the UK would have to pay tariffs on goods and services it exported into the EU. According to recent government impact analysis by officials for the Department for Exiting the European Union, a ‘no deal’  arrangement would result in 8 percent lower economic growth for the UK. It is not clear whether the UK will still be able to negotiate its Brexit deal in any agreed transitional period to avoid such a scenario.

Comments before Speech

  • Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said on Twitter the PM’s speech “must set out exactly how she intends to achieve her – seemingly contradictory and unachievable if we leave single market/customs union – objectives” after she rejected the UK government’s latest proposal, over what powers currently exercised by the EU would return to Holyrood.
  • Political Editor of ITV News, Robert Peston, posted on Facebook, Theresa May’s biggest challenge today was to “persuade the rest of the EU that her ambitions are consistent with EU lore and law AND would be approved by the UK’s parliament … It will be horrifically difficult for her.”




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