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Did we learn anything new from Theresa May’s speech?



What should we make of Theresa May’s Mansion House speech? It’s worth both more and less than at first sight, Simeon the Stylite writes.

[This piece was originally written in the format of a Twitter thread and has been minorly edited and corrected.] 



Expectations had been set very low, not least because of the European Union’s recent, more assertive stance.

Any speech that avoided instant dismissal from any of Michel Barnier, the European Research Group (ERG) or Conservative Party remainers would have done enough to receive a passing grade.

More positively, the tone of the speech (calm, measured, thoughtful) was very good. More conciliatory, less hectoring - the 2016 Conservative Party Conference seems a distant memory.

Its recognition of trade offs and its various pragmatic compromises were sensible, albeit belated. Why not say this before? Another Brexit mystery.

But did we learn anything new? Alignment has been in the air for some time. David Davis talked in his speech about continuing to maintain the highest standards.

We did learn something. We learned that the underlying objective of government policy is to remain as closely linked as possible to the European Union.

Continued alignment was at the heart of the speech. Divergence felt more like a theoretical possibility than the objective of the exercise.

There will be no bonfire of the regulations. We want to remain a member of various agencies. We recognise the relevance of the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

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There were enough nods and winks at the future migration regime to make one think that the base case is likely to be liberal and preferential.

There was hardly a mention of the brave new world of free trade deals and swashbuckling Britain.

In this case, the dog / tail wagging aphorism was very much the EU relationship to Global Britain.

A thin gruel, one would think, for the Brexiteers who wanted a ‘clean break’ from the EU (it will be messy at least) and saw deregulation as a key rationale for Brexit.

But, this was a speech with two hearts.

On one side of the chest, alignment. On the other, the continued ‘clarity’ that we are leaving the Customs Union and the Single Market.

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The three red lines remain firmly in place.

Yes, we want the closest possible relationship with the European Union, but we want it in our way, on our terms and those terms have not materially changed.

This is the speech’s fatal flaw.

For all the positives, it stands little chance of being accepted as a basis for negotiation by the EU.

It is the sporting equivalent of two people playing tennis against each other, but on different courts, with one holding a tennis racquet and the other a table tennis bat.

The European Union’s draft trade negotiating guidelines are already at the proof-reading stage.

The considered response is likely to be: “Merci, Canada + (with perhaps another negotiable +).”

No wonder then that, when a German journalist, Kerstin Leitel, asked if Brexit was “all worth it”, Theresa May looked so uncomfortable.

Answer the direct question, she did not.🔷





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(This piece was first published as a Twitter thread and turned into the above article with the purpose of reaching a larger audience. It has been minorly edited and corrected.)


(Cover: Flickr/Dun.can - Mansion House.)


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Simon the Stylite is the nom de plume for a (mainly) Brexit related commentator. He is also an aspiring novelist.

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