We wrote last week that Theresa May’s has already set out her aims for negotiation. “The contours, contrary to so much wishful thinking to the contrary, are discernable. We will leave the EU altogether. We will seek to opt back, so to speak, into bits of it – but outside the ECJ’s authority. This would mean Single Market access, based on a mutual recognition of standards and maintaining some present customs arrangements. We would pay for access to some projects and for some services. We would control our trade.”
And lo and behold, we find exactly this prospectus set out in today’s papers for her Europe speech on Tuesday.
- Sunday Times: “The prime minister will finally lay her cards on the table, making clear that the UK is set to pull out of the single market and the European customs union in order to regain control of immigration and end the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.”
- Sunday Telegraph: “She’s gone for the full works. People will know when she said ‘Brexit means Brexit’, she really meant it,” a government source said.”
- Sunday Express: “Downing Street aides are understood to have spent the past two days rewriting the speech to ensure it sets out Number 10’s position as clearly as possible.
The original version of the speech was rejected because it did not send out a strong enough message. It is understood that Mrs May’s joint chief of staff Nick Timothy has penned the revised version and was still working on it last night.”
- Observer: “May is expected to focus on building “common goals” – such as protecting and enhancing workers’ rights – in an attempt to create a consensus after months of acrimonious exchanges.”
- Sun on Sunday: “In a historic speech to assembled diplomats from around the world, she will announce her intention to quit the single market and withdraw from the European Court’s jurisdiction. She is also expected to pull out of the customs union — giving her ministers freedom to strike trade deals with countries around the world.”
At this point, we own up. It didn’t take journalistic digging to discover May’s plan (well, only a bit). Her thinking was clearly laid out in her speech to the Conservative Conference last October. “Let me be clear,” she said, “We are not leaving the European Union only to give up control of immigration again…“It is not going to a ‘Norway model’. It’s not going to be a ‘Switzerland model’,” she added. “It is going to be an agreement between an independent, sovereign United Kingdom and the European Union.”
Which means, since controlling our borders is incompatible with being a Single Market member, that we won’t be a member. As for customs, leaving the customs union does not in practice necessarily mean losing our present customs access – but we shall see.
The Sunday Telegraph‘s account says that “Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, and David Davis, the Secretary for Exiting the EU, have been closely involved in crafting the speech. Mr Johnson saw the Prime Minister on Tuesday while Mr Davis has been in regular contact, though neither are understood to have seen the final draft.” This sounds likely enough, especially if Timothy, our former columnist, is still toiling away on the draft. But ConservativeHome is told that the Ministerial troika that really counts is May, Davis – and Philip Hammond.
Taking the Chancellor with her will be one of the Prime Minister’s main objectives in terms of party management. She will naturally be keen not to allow the Foreign Secretary any room to distance himself from her negotiating strategy. But the Chancellor is business’s main man in the Cabinet, and his view matters.
The speech is unlikely to suggest what May’s response will be if our interlocutors reject her demands outright – or, more likely, seek to drag the talks out to put pressure on her. She does not have to say so directly this week. But she will need to at some point before Article 50 is moved. She will need to make it clear that a good deal – that’s say, a deal which meets her requirements – is better than the Most Favoured Nation status alternative, but that no deal, and MFN, is a lot better than a bad deal.
The biggest strategic weakness of David Cameron’s renegotiation is that he was never prepared to walk – that’s to say, to say plainly that he was prepared to lead Britain out of the EU were his demands not met. His head ended up on a spike. His successor will want to avoid the same fate.