Her Brexit speech at Lancaster House was lacklustreby John McTernan / January 18, 2017 / Leave a comment
The five most frequently used words in Theresa May’s Lancaster House Brexit speech yesterday were, in order, “Britain,” “Europe,” “EU,” “trade” and “want.” And it is the verb “want” that is doing all the heavy lifting. The fundamental flaw in May’s plan for a “global Britain” is that she breaks one of the iron laws of politics—do not believe in what you hope for. This was in no sense a plan, it was a wish list plain and simple.
There is a straightforward test as to whether political language is banal boilerplate—can you imagine someone arguing the opposite of what a politician proudly proclaims? Take the “Objectives and Ambitions” section of the Prime Minister’s speech. Would anyone ever argue:
“So today I want to outline our objectives for the negotiation ahead. 12 objectives that amount to one big goal: a stale, negative and destructive partnership between Britain and the European Union. And as we negotiate that partnership, we will be driven by some simple principles: we will provide as much uncertainty and obscurity as we can at every stage. And we will take this opportunity to make Britain weaker, to make Britain more unfair, and to build a more Parochial Britain too.”
Of course not.
And so it went on, with the PM setting out her twelve objectives.
But the purpose of May’s speech is clear: Britain will seek to avoid a disruptive cliff-edge when we leave the EU, and the government will do everything it can to phase in the new arrangements as Britain and the EU move towards a new partnership.
The twelve objectives really are a mixed bag, combining aspirations about process with items which vary from the extraordinarily precise: the Common Travel Area with Ireland, to the Trumpianly vague: the commitment to new trade deals over which hovers the word “Yuuuge!” And even on the surface they are contradictory when taken together—they cannot all be combined. There will inevitably be trade-offs – which is, after all, one of the core concerns of all politics. The Prime Minister herself admitted it in the opening section of her speech:
“We are about…