What a hullabaloo!
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Flying all the way to Florence, with a large entourage, pursued by an army of journalists, to give a speech that she could have given in London – or directly to the 27 Presidents and Prime Ministers of the EU countries when she meets them next month – Theresa May’s speech today was more about the show than the content.
If it was aimed at placating our European partners by waxing lyrical, as she did, about sharing the same values and about the benefits of cooperation and partnership, their first reaction will no doubt be to wonder why on earth she wants Britain to walk out of the framework set up to foster those very things.
But when they look at the detail of her speech, they will feel she has revealed nothing particularly new, and is still ambiguous on many of the issues likely to prove difficult for her at the Tory party conference.
Take the issues spun by her entourage as significant:
But her speech was also notable for what it failed to address.
We still don’t know for sure which European technical agencies she wants Britain to remain part of, despite many of them being vital for the several economic sectors concerned, from aviation to medicines.
She failed to mention fisheries and what negotiating position she intends to take on the trade off between European access to UK waters and UK exporters’ access to European markets.
She avoided the issue of agriculture and what happens to our farmers if we leave the common European agricultural markets and systems of agricultural support.
There was certainly no acknowledgement that most of the Leave campaign promises cannot be met.
Those in other European capitals who were hoping to hear more about what Britain wants, rather than what it does not want, will have been disappointed.
This is no surprise. The speech was not so much about positioning May better in the negotiations with the EU as about positioning her in the negotiations within the Conservative party.
Her cabinet remains deeply divided between those wanting to prioritise absolute theoretical sovereignty and those seeking to maximise access to the vital EU market. This is not a simple Brexiteer-Remainer division. The Leave campaign itself was divided on this at the time of the referendum, offering two different visions for the future some saying we would stay in the single market, others that we would leave it and “go global”.
Ahead of the Tory party conference, this division has been fudged, not bridged.
This article was first published by on the website of Richard Corbett MEP, Deputy Leader of the EPLP and vice chair of the European Movement UK. Click here for more blogs about the EU or in depth Brexit Briefings.