May dragged the UK press pack to Florence in order to hear a speech which only mixed vacuity and arrogance with desperate, panglossian horizon-scanningby Jay Elwes / September 22, 2017 / Leave a comment
It was uncertain why the PM decided to make her big pre-Conference speech in Florence, an especially unusual choice as the audience was made up almost entirely of the Westminster press pack.
The Prime Minister has undergone extensive media training. Today’s appearance showed none of the chilly robotics of the election campaign. Instead May put on what was for her, a remarkably modulated speech, that displayed an entirely new range of vocal inflections and, whisper it, some gestures that were so expansive that they verged on the continental. The PM has been to media summer school.
And the substance? In short, there wasn’t any. Instead, the PM embarked on a well-crafted journey through the desolate landscape of Britain’s failed attempts to grab for itself a position that no one wants to give it and which the government has been told repeatedly it cannot have.
In her half hour peroration, May mixed vacuity and arrogance with desperate, panglossian horizon-scanning. The tone was one of wild optimism. “We want to be your strongest friend and partner,” she assured the audience in the room, which was, it bears repeating, made up entirely of the UK press pack. “It is in all our interests for the negotiations to succeed.”
On security, the economy and trade, the PM set out a relentlessly upbeat picture of “concrete progress,” entirely at odds with all feedback from Britain’s civil service, the EU, the European press and Britain’s many foreign correspondents. And having made her assertion, she failed entirely to give any detail on what that progress in fact was.
Instead of detail there was the usual, airy, party association-style speech, that set out in generous detail Britain’s innate gifts as a trading and economic power. Whether or not such gifts are extant is less important than the fact they will get us nowhere with people on the other side of the table. Who would ever respond favourably to the argument “I’m special, give me what I want”? This brattish sentiment peaked when May turned her attention to the EU trade deal with Canada. Britain would want something similar, she said, but then assured the room that “we can do so much better than this.”
“The implication was clear: none of that Canadian nonsense for us”
“Let us be creative, and practical,” May said. That word—creative. It came back repeatedly throughout the speech, the PM linking it to the location, Florence, the seat of the Renaissance, the fount of European creativity. If the desire to make that link was the reason her press people chose the location, it was a long stretch for a pretty weak line. The implication was clear though. We want a creative approach, a bespoke deal, she was saying. None of that Canadian nonsense for us. It would be a deal, she said, with “no need for tariffs.”
May came back down to earth to accept the notion that there should be a transitional period, something that will rile her Eurosceptic opponents. It would probably last for two years, she suggested, but could be shorter. But then she veered back into the world of delusion—in that time, she said, any new migrants would have to register. She also said that Britain’s access to EU markets would continue unhindered. It is not clear how even those two statements fit together. In fact, they do not. As for the exit bill, the idea was mentioned in passing twice, but no number was given. It will be hotly debated at the Conservative party conference which begins at the beginning of October.
Drawing to her conclusion, May said that a failure for the UK and EU to reach an agreement would be “a failure in the eyes of history.” The PM made no contribution towards avoiding that outcome in her speech today. Quite the opposite, in fact.