10 Times Theresa May's Brexit Rhetoric Collided With Reality

It's not going terribly well.

A disastrous General Election, MPs plotting your demise and the clock ticking on getting a deal with the EU.

Theresa May’s famous Lancaster House speech in January, which set out her Government’s hardline approach to Brexit, must now seem like a long time ago for the Prime Minister.

As her team prepares to sit down and thrash out an agreement with the EU 27, here are ten times May’s Brexit rhetoric has clashed with some cold, hard realities.

1. The UK will get the “exact same benefits” as the single market

After triggering Article 50 on March 29, May told the BBC’s Andrew Neil: “It will be a different relationship, but I think it can have the same benefits in terms of that free access to trade.”

Barnier says no way.
Barnier says no way.
Reuters/PA Images

Not according to the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier. He said such a deal or the UK was simply “not possible” at a press conference in Brussels July.

He told reporters: “I have heard some people in the UK argue that one can leave the single market and keep all of its benefits. That is not possible.”

James McGrory, Executive Director of Open Britain, said: “The Prime Minister should fundamentally change her approach to Brexit and stop pretending utopian rhetoric is a substitute for realistic achievement.

“She should start by admitting that we can negotiate a new deal with the EU that gives us the ‘exact same benefits’ as Single Market membership is a fantasy.”

2. The UK will stop paying vast sums into the EU budget

The divorce bill will be how big?
The divorce bill will be how big?
PAUL ELLIS via Getty Images

During her Lancaster House speech, Theresa May said: “The days of Britain making vast contributions to the European Union every year will end.”

We found out earlier this month that her Government is preparing to pay £36bn to the EU in order to settle the Brexit divorce bill.

Three senior Whitehall figures confirmed the figure to the Telegraph, claiming it was likely to be the only route into trade talks with the EU.

3. Free movement will end and net migration will be cut to ‘tens of thousands’

The whole cabinet are now "united" on free movement continuing for years
The whole cabinet are now "united" on free movement continuing for years
Handout via Getty Images

Once again, something Theresa May said in her Lancaster House speech has come back to haunt her.

She said: “We still believe we want to net migration down to sustainable levels – that means in the tens of thousands – so the policy hasn’t changed. Of course, what has changed, is when we leave the European Union we will able to bring control to the movement of people from the EU into the United Kingdom.”

But, in July, reports emerged that ministers now accept free movement of people will in fact continue for years after the UK leaves the EU in 2019.

Even ardent Brexiteer Michael Gove said he would take a “pragmatic approach” on a transitional deal that includes free movement.

4. She will guarantee the rights of EU citizens living in Britain

PA Wire/PA Images

There are three million EU nationals that live in the UK and Theresa May, again in that Lancaster House speech, said she wanted to guarantee their status in Britain.

She said: “We want to guarantee the rights of EU citizens who are already living in Britain.”

But once the Brexit Bill was published in July, we learned that it seeks to give the Government the power to “modify, limit or remove” the rights of EU citizens living in the UK after Brexit”.

May has always maintained this is an insurance policy so that she can secure the rights of UK citizens living elsewhere in the EU.

5. Brexit with ‘no deal’ will not damage the UK economy

It was May’s oft-repeated line of the General Election campaign: “No deal is better than a bad deal.”

A ‘no deal’ scenario would see the country move to World Trade Organisation rules, which would mean punitive tariffs.

This time, the Prime Minister’s dose of reality came from her own Chancellor, Phillip Hammond, who bluntly told the BBC’s Andrew Marr in June: “No deal would be a very, very bad outcome for Britain.”

6. May will take in the views of Scotland and Wales

Scottish First minister Nicola Sturgeon meets Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones at Bute House in Edinburgh for talks
Scottish First minister Nicola Sturgeon meets Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones at Bute House in Edinburgh for talks
PA Archive/PA Images

Before triggering Article 50, May vowed at Lancaster House: “I have also been determined from the start that the devolved administrations should be fully engaged in this process.”

Wales First Minister Carwyn Jones and Nicola Sturgeon put out a joint statement after the Brexit Bill was published which flew in the face of that claim.

It reads: “This week began with the Prime Minister calling for a constructive and collaborative approach from those outside Whitehall to help get Brexit right. Today’s publication of The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill is the first test as to whether the UK Government is serious about such an approach. It is a test it has failed utterly.”

It ends: “Unfortunately, the conversation has been entirely one-sided.”

7. The EU will agree to parallel trade/Brexit divorce bill talks

The Prime Minister wanted the EU to negotiate a future trade deal with the EU, while also working out what the UK still owed into the EU budget.

In her Article 50 letter to EU Council President Donald Tusk in March, May said: “We believe it is necessary to agree the terms of our future partnership alongside those of our withdrawal from the EU.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel was quick to shoot this down.

She told reporters in Berlin: “The negotiations must first clarify how we will disentangle our interlinked relationship... and only when this question is dealt with, can we, hopefully soon after, begin talking about our future relationship.”

In June, the UK Government caved and agreed to settle the divorce bill before talking trade.

8. New powers for Scotland and Wales post-Brexit

Theresa May and Nicola Sturgeon
Theresa May and Nicola Sturgeon
PA Wire/PA Images

Scotland wants agriculture and fishing powers, among a slew of other controls, to go to Holyrood post-Brexit.

And May promised the devolved administrations would get more powers once the UK left the bloc.

In her Article 50 letter, she wrote: “It is the expectation of the Government that the outcome of this process will be a significant increase in the decision-making power of each devolved administration.”

The Brexit Bill allows for the the reality to be quite different. In fact, the reverse could be true.

Professor of Public Law at the University of Cambridge, Mark Elliott, said: “Clause 11 in effect freezes devolved competence on exit day by ensuring that the repatriation of powers from the EU does not result in any accrual of authority to the devolved legislatures, even in subject areas that are devolved.

“Repatriated powers will thus flow, at least in the first instance, back to London, not to Belfast, Cardiff or Edinburgh, meaning that it will be UK-level institutions that are capable of legislating on matters that fall within devolved subject areas but that were off-limits to devolved institutions thanks to their incapacity to breach EU law. The effect is to deprive the devolved institutions of powers that would have defaulted to them upon withdrawal, and to give those powers instead to UK-tier institutions.”

May has insisted, however, that Brexit will not undermine devolution and claimed the SNP was attempting to play politics.

9. A ‘frictionless’ border in Northern Ireland

Prime Minister Theresa May speaks during Prime Minister's Questions
Prime Minister Theresa May speaks during Prime Minister's Questions
PA Wire/PA Images

A key element of negotiating a deal with the EU will be securing the right border agreement with the Republic of Ireland.

In her Lancaster House Speech, Theresa May said: “So we will work to deliver a practical solution that allows the maintenance of the Common Travel Area with the Republic, while protecting the integrity of the United Kingdom’s immigration system.

“Nobody wants to return to the borders of the past, so we will make it a priority to deliver a practical solution as soon as we can.”

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar isn’t exactly on board.

Earlier this month, he said: “What we’re not going to do is to design a border for the Brexiteers because they’re the ones who want a border.

“It’s up to them to say what it is, say how it would work and first of all convince their own people, their own voters that this is actually a good idea.

“As far as this government is concerned there shouldn’t be an economic border. We don’t want one.”

10. Encouraging the migration of skilled workers to the UK

PA Wire/PA Images

The UK needs immigrants for the labour market - many doctors, social workers, teaching assistants and carers, for example, are migrants - and Theresa May acknowledged this need in her Lancaster House speech.

She said: “We will continue to attract the brightest and the best to work or study in Britain – indeed openness to international talent must remain one of this country’s most distinctive assets.”

But already, there are signs that there is a drop off in EU nationals applying for UK jobs. In June, the Nursing and Midwifery Council said there has been a 96% fall in the number of EU migrants applying for nursing posts since the Brexit vote.


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