The Prime Minister spoke on Brexit, but did she have much to say?
PRIME MINISTER THERESA MAY has outlined her “vision” for the future economic partnership between the United Kingdom and the European Union, along with what she expects from any eventual Brexit deal with the EU.
There was much anticipation of what tone the speech might take or what revelations might be contained therein, with the Financial Times’ Sebastian Payne reporting that an “informed” Conservative MP had said May’s speech could prove a “pill” for hard Brexiters to swallow, marking the end of the UK Government’s “cake-and-eat-it” strategy. However, the eventual declaration was more of a wishlist of vaguely defined aspirations, short on significant detail.
Nevertheless, CommonSpace has broken down the key points of May’s latest and address and what their implications might be.
Whether due to a newfound sense of realism or out of realisation that the UK’s negotiating position is not quite as bulletproof as hard Brexiters might have hoped, May emphasised that Brexit negotiations came accompanied by “hard facts” and that “life is going to be different” after the UK leaves the EU.
However, due to the nebulous nature of the eventual agreement surrounding Brexit – not to mention continuing uncertainty over the possibility of a ‘no deal’ scenario, which May reaffirmed was both still an option and still regarded, by her office, as preferable to a ‘bad deal’ – exactly how life was going to be different was not fully explained.
However, despite reiterating several times that the UK should achieve some parity with the EU in terms of competitiveness and the expenses of trade, May acknowledged that the UK would have less access to the single market following Brexit, saying: “In certain ways, our access to each other’s markets will be less than it is now. How could the EU’s structure of rights and obligations be sustained, if the UK – or any country – were allowed to enjoy all the benefits without all of the obligations?”
As the Trade Union Congress (TUC) have already pointed out, this directly contradicts what May said regarding Brexit last year.
UK and EU law
May acknowledged that the UK would have to accept the influence of the European Court of Justice (ECJ), despite the UK leaving its jurisdiction. In particular, the ECJ oversees whether EU agreements are legal by the standards of EU law – May used the example of the ECJ declaring the safe harbour framework for data sharing invalid, as the United States discovered.
May also said that the UK was prepared to make “binding commitments” for UK regulations to remain in line with those of the EU, using those regulations pertaining to workers’ rights and environmental protections as examples. May denied that there would be “a race to the bottom” in terms of regulatory standards.
This is unlikely to please the Tory hard right, who have long hoped that mass deregulation would be a consequence of leaving the EU. However, the precise nature of those commitments – and whether they could be reversed, no matter how binding – was not made clear.
The UK’s regulatory standards, once committed to being “at least as high” as those of the EU, would, May argued, help to facilitate the formation of “customs partnership” or a “highly-streamlined customs arrangement”, two alternative proposals suggested by a UK Government paper last summer. Despite discussing both proposals, May did not indicate which she favoured.
Both, however, are different from a customs union, though as with many aspects of the speech, the details of such a partnership or arrangement were not explained, as they rely upon future negotiation with the EU. May has ruled out remaining in the customs union, in contrast with UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
As expected, May has reaffirmed the UK Government’s opposition to any hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. However, no new significant proposal was put forward on how to achieve this. Instead, she railed against EU proposals which would place a customs in the Irish Sea, which May claimed “no UK Prime Minister could ever agree” to.
Following her speech, a journalist from the French newspaper Liberation asked if it wasn’t time that May “told the truth” and admitted that there will be a hard border, given her lack of solutions.
May responded by saying – contrary to all prior evidence – that she had been very clear. There will be no return to a hard border in Northern Ireland.
Despite Holyrood approving the Scottish Government’s alternative Continuity Bill on Brexit on Thursday, there was precisely zero mention of Scotland. However, there was a joke about the weather.
Picture courtesy of duncan c
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