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‘Why Can’t We Be Friends?’ Theresa May Asks The EU
In January, Theresa May used a speech at Lancaster House in London to tell the EU the UK would rather walk away from the Brexit talks than accept a bad deal.
In May, Theresa May stood outside 10 Downing Street and accused the EU of issuing “threats” to the UK over Brexit and trying to influence the General Election.
Today in Florence, Theresa May decided the time for hardball was over as she appealed to EU leaders to be “imaginative and creative” to help revive the stalling Brexit talks.
It wasn’t just the tone that was different from May today, there were some definite shifts in policy as well.
Here are the key points:
The UK will seek to enter a two-year transition period after March 2019. During this period, the UK will continue to abide by all the current EU rules.
That means freedom of movement will not stop until at least March 2021, and the European Court of Justice will continue to have jurisdiction after March 2019.
In the longer term, UK courts will “be able to take into account” judgments from the ECJ when it comes to citizens’ rights. This doesn’t entirely breach her promise of the ECJ having no jurisdiction in UK law after Brexit, but it is a watering down of her position.
The UK will settle its debts with the EU for the current budgetary cycle, as well as paying into other institutions and projects it wishes to be a part of.
No physical border between Ireland and Northern Ireland – although this has been the Government position since the summer.
A definite rowing back from the “no deal is better than bad deal” position of the Lancaster House speech. May said: “There is no need to impose tariffs where we have none now, and I don’t think anyone sensible is contemplating this.”
In the letter triggering Article 50, Theresa May was clear there was a link between a Brexit trade deal and future security cooperation. Downing Street tried to play this down at the time, and today May was explicit in moving away from linking the two when she said: “The United Kingdom is unconditionally committed to maintaining Europe’s security”
As for the future trading relationship with the EU, the Prime Minister was clear that the so-called Norway model (whereby you’re in the Single Market but don’t get to vote on its rules) was off the table. That is despite that being the exact position the UK will be in during the transition period. The Canadian model was also rejected, with May saying “we can do so much better than this.”
You can read more analysis of the speech from HuffPost UK’s Executive Editor for Politics, Paul Waugh, here.
Here is reaction from some of the key players in the UK and Europe:
EU Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier
“Prime Minister May’s statements are a step forward but they must now be translated into a precise negotiating position of the UK government.”
Nigel Farage (for the Telegraph):
In other words, we will be leaving the EU in name only. May’s position is that the current arrangements will be rebadged and we will carry on with them.
This is not what the majority voted for and it represents a victory of the EU Establishment over Britain’s 17.4m Leave voters. It is nothing short of a democratic abomination.
“Over the summer, I wrote in these pages that I feared the great Brexit betrayal had begun. Sadly, after Florence, it appears that I was right.
“Fifteen months after the EU referendum the Government is still no clearer about what our long term relationship with the EU will look like.
“The only advance seems to be that the Prime Minister has listened to Labour and faced up to the reality that Britain needs a transition on the same basic terms to provide stability for businesses and workers.”
Carolyn Fairbairn, CBI Director-General
“The Prime Minister’s speech has set a positive tone and we now need leadership from both sides to turn the proposals and principles into decisions and action.
“Firms will welcome the proposal of a ‘status quo’ transition period for business that averts a cliff-edge exit.”
Gisela Stuart, former chair of Vote Leave
“This was a positive and reassuring speech, rightly delivering on the will of the British people - but the Prime Minister now needs to go further.
“I welcome the Prime Minister’s commitment to take Britain out of the EU’s single market and customs union, but now she needs to make clear that the transition period will be time-limited and no longer than two years.”
Richard Tice & John Longworth, Leave Means Leave
“We are deeply concerned that her proposals could lead to nothing changing either during or after the implementation period – which will go on for an undefined amount of time. There is no reference to being able to deregulate, sign our own trade deals or control our borders.
Hilary Benn, Chair of the Exiting EU Committee
“The Prime Minister’s announcement that the Government wants to stay bound by EU rules for ‘around’ two years after March 2019, that it will offer a financial settlement to honour our obligations and that EU citizens will still be able to come to the UK although they will have to register, does represent a small step forward. However, it remains to be seen whether these proposals will be enough to unblock the talks, especially since it is no clearer how the Government proposes to avoid the return of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.”