Looking forward to Theresa May’s speech on Brexit

16th January 2017

The prime minister Theresa May is to give a speech on Brexit this week.

For somebody who professes not to want to give a “running commentary” her speech is widely trailed in the media.

And for somebody who is often described as wanting to keep her cards to her chest, she has played a number of cards already.  On the card table are the following:

– the intended date of the Article 50 notification;

– the intention to keep to the Article 50 two-year timetable without an extension;

– the intention for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union;

– the intention for the United Kingdom to leave the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice;

– the objective of the United Kingdom to take control of its borders (ie, ending free movement of persons);

– the objective of the United Kingdom to take control of its laws; and

– the objective of the United Kingdom to take control of its money (ie, ending compulsory contributions to the European Union budget).

Given these open positions, it is hard to see what cards are still in her hand.

This week’s speech is expected to say that the United Kingdom is prepared to leave the single market.  But, as I have set out on this blog and at the FT, the departure of the United Kingdom from the single market is the necessary implication of the positions which the prime minister has admitted to holding.

Perhaps the speech will reveal something about how the United Kingdom is seeking to attain the objectives.  Perhaps there will be some statements about still-unknown issues such as the United Kingdom’s position on a customs union.

Or perhaps it will be a sequence of slogans and ambitions, without any substance on how they will be converted into reality.

More important may be the interview from the chancellor of the exchequer Phillip Hammond with a German newspaper.  He often seems to be the only grown-up in the cabinet.


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16 thoughts on “Looking forward to Theresa May’s speech on Brexit”

  1. The attempt to blackmail the EU into compliance with British wishes by threatening (as the world’s 6th largest economy) to compete by reducing corporation tax and the provision of incentives (presumably paid for by the largese of the tooth fairy) is doomed to fail. May’s mission will be to try to provide enough optimism that rational minds in Labour and her own party don’t go into open revolt over Brexit – those of a “Fu Man Chu” mentality may have concluded that such a reaction, Brexit bonfire, is what she has been aiming at since the get-go. Unfortunately, there are many easier ways of achieving this which she has not examined, so one must conclude that she is intent on steering the ship of state onto the economic rocks of Brexit Reef.

  2. Despite the lack of a “running commentary” many of the cards, as you put it, are already on the table.

    Is it a British flaw not being able to admit having made a mistake? In this case a massive mistake, and to keep on insisting the King is still fully clothed.

  3. Wondered whether or not the timing of this speech was designed to coincide with announcement of UK Supreme Court Judgement re Gina Miller’s case. As always J of K summarises essential points concisely.

  4. According to an article in The Mirror 54% who voted to leave are not prepared to be poorer as a result of limiting immigration.


    It would seem therefore that a majority of people either voted to remain or voted to leave for reasons other than immigration.

    What mandate does she have to take the UK out of the single market in the first place? By what right is she putting the economic future of this country at risk by following a course of action that people never voted for nor supported to begin with?

  5. Good summary but you could go further. Theresa May said, last Sunday, that the UK would not be keeping “bits of the EU” (no cherry picking?). That means no single market and no customs union (which the EU makes clear is integral to the single market). Being in the CU would leave the UK subject to the ECJ on matters of trade.

    She has also instructed Fox to start talks with New Zealand on an FTA. That means leaving the Customs Union. While it is not impossible to be in the CU and have other FTAs, it is also not particularly practical. Partly because of ‘rules of origin’ compliance. Partly because we would have to have the same external tariffs as the EU. This would give us less room to negotiate meaningful FTAs.

    For details on this, it is worth reading the Trade Beta blog. The briefing papers from the UK Trade Policy Observatory are also excellent. Those calling for a Ukraine option clearly haven’t read the details of the deal. The direction of travel is in the opposite direction to Brexit.

    Meanwhile, Hammond has started issuing threats (sticks not carrots or cherries). He seems to forget that London needs the EU’s custom as much as, if not more than, the EU needs London. This early signalling of potential ill-intent, when trust is already so low, is crazy. It will force the EU to work harder on contingency planning (Barnier said on Friday that this was necessary). They will have two years to start making alternative arrangements. Finance can move surprisingly quickly (look at big-bang 85-87).

    Say the UK goes into negotiations with that attitude (rather than just while negotiating by proxy). The EU would advise all businesses to seek alternative finance providers within the eurozone. The EU could fast-track deals that encourage international banks to open eurozone main offices. The EU is not powerless or stupid (although it makes mistakes).

    Conservative ministers and MPs keep talking as though we hold all the cards (and they appear to believe their own spin). They fail to think of what cards the EU holds or how they might play them. That’s not a good way to conduct negotiations if you want a good deal.


  6. Well, as someone who lives on the Continent, every time she opens her mouth, it takes money out of my pocket. We will just have to see how far the currency tanks this time.

    1. My situation too. It looks as if the only way to protect personal wealth from excess political risk created by people in government is to trade or hedge in advance, whether trading ForEx or something else. Unfortunately many of us aren’t trained at trading, or lack a plan or execute badly, and others among us didn’t think it’d be so bad.

  7. The only point in your piece that I disagree with relates to the last sentence:

    “He often seems to be the only grown-up in the cabinet.”

    Given that there are 27 ( http://www.parliament.uk/mps-lords-and-offices/government-and-opposition1/her-majestys-government/ ) people around the cabinet table, your assertion seems exaggerated and unfair. Are you really suggesting that it often seems that the Cabinet is made up of 1 adult and 26 children?

    1. Cabinet have been largely kept out of this by May, though – she prefers to deal with a few like minds, or herself alone – she is not one for compromise or debate.

      1. Theresa May should have stayed in her previous job. She’s good at being severe, punishing somebody for something if they deserve it, but going on to punish a whole country or a whole continent for God-knows-what (her psychologist could tell us) isn’t probably a good idea.

  8. Does a manifesto commitment to hold an advisory referendum on EU membership the result of which ‘advises’ by a slim majority to leave override the other manifesto commitment to ‘strengthen the Single Market’? Or should the ‘advice’ from ‘the people’ be politely ignored because there was a Single Market manifesto pledge for good reason and Brexit would destroy those reasons?

  9. I do get the impression that Mrs May, after the win of the ‘no plan’ Leave campaign, has been trying to make sense of it by building things up in a tower of ideas – single brick by single brick. As the tower has got higher and higher, no-one in government has looked seriously at its overall stability, nor have they checked the foundations of this flimsy construct.

    She has adopted many of her basic principles from polls and surveys other than the only real data from the referendum- the simple binary question, the very small majority, and the turnout. As many politicians have said before- there is only one real poll. To give enormous weight to assumptions about this ‘real poll’ , based on the results of a set of other cherry-picked lesser polls, is to actually ignore the real ‘will of the people’ while barging on regardless.

  10. A political hint: May detest the ECHR, the Convention and, explicitly, the Court. Detests it, loathes it, hates it: so much so, that she cannot put on a smooth politician’s reassurances that she’s rational about it.

    Her dislike of the ECJ takes second place, but it’s a close second place.

    The former is regarded by her fellow heads of state with more than mere distaste: they are disgusted but, being politicians and pragmatic in all things, they are politely bland and diplomatic.

    The latter is a practical channel for their expressionless opinion of the former.

    Also: she has found friends, if we may call them that, in Northern Ireland. The sort of friendly men who like bright colours, or one bright colour in particular, and have very strong opinions about conventions that forbid discrimination on the grounds of any citizens’ religious affiliation.

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