After weeks refusing to give a “running commentary”, Theresa May seems to have made up for that with the amount of detail she has given on her priorities in the upcoming Brexit talks. The Prime Minister vowed to take Britain out of the single market in order to curb immigration without being constrained by EU free movement rules. She stressed that Britain wanted to remain on good terms with the EU, but warned that any attempt to punish it for Brexit risks tearing the bloc into “tiny pieces”. To cap it off, she warned that she was prepared to walk away from talks if Brussels insisted on giving a “bad deal” to Britain.
Our commentators have been busy analysing her speech. Janet Daley writes that her tone was “pitch perfect”. “The bloodcurdling threats that are being uttered against us are pointless and damaging to what might have been a happy future relationship,” she adds. “Whether they believe it or not in Brussels, that will take some very skillful EU rhetoric to rebut.” But that doesn’t mean it will be plain sailing. Mrs May told her audience at Lancaster House that “there will be give and take” and that the Brexit process “will require imagination on both sides”. She knows it will be necessary to manage expectations, as polls so far suggest the public feels Britain can achieve a deal that curbs immigration, frees it from EU rules and maintains favourable access to the single market all at the same time.
James Kirkup has highlighted where a compromise may be found – in the money Britain pays for single market access. She indicated that Britain would stop paying “huge” amounts of money to the EU, but would make the “appropriate contributions”. This may be economically prudent, Kirkup writes, “but a shared market of this sort means shared rules and shared arbitration. Doesn’t that entail some sharing of sovereignty, an acceptance that not all decisions can be made by Britain without regard to the views of other nations?” The unveiling of Mrs May’s 12-point Brexit plan is an important part of the process nonetheless, as evidenced by the strong reactions it has received. I tried to answer them this afternoon with two of our resident experts, Europe editor Peter Foster and columnist Juliet Samuel, during our live Q&A.
The next thing Mrs May has to do is formally kickstart the Brexit process by triggering Article 50. The Supreme Court will soon determine if she has to win approval from Parliament before she can do. Assuming the judges do that – and ministers are indeed making that assumption – what will Labour do? Tom Harris suggests it’s time for Jeremy Corbyn to be relevant to the Brexit debate by backing the Government’s efforts wholeheartedly. “As things stand, with Labour standing in the middle of the road on the issues freedom of movement and single market membership,” he writes, “it runs the risk of being run over by traffic heading in both directions.”