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As I See It

May’s Brexit signposts offer few clear directions

Terry smiling headSo much expectation had been built up ahead of Theresa May’s set-piece speech on Brexit that it was inevitable that it would disappoint.

It was detailed, at times rather boringly so, full of turgid references to legal obligations and responsibilities. At the end, one felt not much further forward than when she began speaking.

We got a few vague aspirations but, as one commentator said, we hope the details are in the post.

She confirmed that she will seek alignment with EU rules on data flows, mobility of people, qualifications and standards. This is a positive move, though it also looks dangerously like the cherry-picking approach that the EU has rejected, and there is no precedent for this.

Mrs May threw in criticism of US President Donald Trump’s new tariffs on steel imports, referring to “a worrying rise in protectionism”, while justifying her own ambitions to create a new tariff regime for the UK.

More decisively the Prime Minister said the UK will leave the customs union and added that the City should forget about passporting rights, allowing for uninhibited trading across nations. Mrs May told us that Philip Hammond, the Chancellor, will deliver a further hammer blow to those hopes next week.

Following her Chequers Summit with ministers last week we were led to believe the Prime Minister’s address would provide more meat on the still skeletal Brexit frame. 

Too much of what she said sounded more like a mix of demands and desires built around rather wishy-washy principles about “shared interests” and Britain’s history of creativity and innovation as a great trading nation, blah, blah…

She exposed the dilemma facing the government over the Northern Ireland border with the Republic which is no nearer resolution. More had been expected on proposing a solution.

The re-statement of her hard Brexit credentials drew another line in the sand with Labour’s commitment to a customs union and spelled out to British business that it is being distanced further and further from the EU on the promise of a land of milk and honey alternative that will be far better.

We still don’t know how this will look. She told us that she did not favour either the Canada or Norway models for creating a new relationship with the EU.

But without spelling out exactly how her new vision will take shape the markets did what they always do when nothing is clear: they retreated. There was a further fall in sterling against the euro and the dollar.


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