What did we learn from Theresa Mays’ speech in Florence?

Its looking more likely that we need to prepare for a no deal and a hard Brexit

The speech sets out the UK Government’s plan to leave the European Union by March 2019 in name only. Her proposition looks like Britain’s current situation as a full EU member rather than the conditions of an independent country. The speech was disappointing in that there was nothing substantively new in her government’s position.

Mrs May is looking for creativity in negotiating a new, long-term relationship between Britain and the EU in which the implementation phase would see full incorporation of EU regulation in British law, some degree of legal accountability to the European Court of Justice, essentially unchanged trade terms, and increased control on immigration of the EU. This will in effect postpone addressing key issues such as freedom of movement, trade, the border between Ireland and Northern.

Mrs May moved on the UK previous position with the offer of continued payment into the EU budget during a two-year transition period. This only takes the UK halfway towards the c.€40bn which the EU will demand to cover the UK’s existing and future liabilities during a post-Brexit-transition period. May adopted a more conciliatory attitude than previously on the rights of EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU.

Mrs May discounted EEA membership as unsustainable in the long-term due to the lack of political support in the UK. She suggested a new court to which both the EU and UK send judges as equals as an approach to resolving regulatory disputes. She also aimed to increase business certainty by pushing for a ‘double lock’ on transition and its deadline date.

Overall the UK’s Brexit strategy has so far been a failure. It lacks realistic objectives, analysis of the consequences, credible plans and timescales. Consequently, the UK continues to be badly prepared for Article 50 negotiations. In the Brexit talks process, Britain is facing significant internal disagreement, the EU is fairly united and well-prepared and is setting the agenda and will likely largely prevail. The facts are clear:

  1. The EU is the largest market in the world and to access it Britain will have to play by the established rules of that market.
  2. Britain will have to meet the legally binding financial and other commitments it undertook as a member of the EU.
  3. The UK will need a transition period if it wants to avoid an economic and social disaster. Negotiating the details of any future arrangement between with the EU is far too complex to be achieved and ratified in 18 months. It goes therefore without saying that Britain must adhere to the EU's rules during that transition period.
Dr. Ray NultyComment