Britain will not be “keeping bits of EU membership”by Andrew Hammond / January 17, 2017 / Leave a comment
Theresa May set out her long-awaited Brexit vision today, in her most important speech yet as prime minister. She advocated a hard Brexit, arguing against “keeping bits of EU membership,” including of the Single Market. While the speech has been warmly welcomed by Brexiteers, it will divide the nation. Not just because 48 per cent of the population last year voted “Remain,” but because some members of the 52 per cent also wanted a softer Brexit than the one promised today.
Mixing occasional tough talk with an upbeat tone, May made clear that the United Kingdom remains a European country, and that it is in the nation’s best interest that the EU succeeds in the future. She advocated development of a “new positive, constructive partnership” between London and Brussels based on 12 key principles for a “smooth and orderly Brexit.” She believes these will allow the nation to play a bigger global role in the future.
Yet she made explicit that, in her view, “no deal is better than a bad deal.” Thus, there are clear bottom lines in the forthcoming negotiations, especially over the need for the UK to be able to control EU immigration.
Among the key principles she advocated was developing a “stronger [UK] economy and fairer society” which May asserted stronger immigration controls could help provide. She acknowledged that this means continued membership of the Single Market is impossible, given the EU’s commitment to the free movement of capital, goods, people and services.
Her alternative vision is instead for an agreement with the EU with the “freest possible trade in goods and services.” She maintains that this deal should include the “greatest possible access to the Single Market on a reciprocal basis.”
Her message on the Customs Union was more nuanced. She argued that the status quo of “full [customs] membership” isn’t tenable given that she wants the nation to be rediscover its role “as a great global trading nation,” including with countries such as China, Brazil, India, and the United States. This means no longer being bound by the EU’s common external tariff. Yet May left open the possibility of partial membership of the Customs Union by making clear that she does not want new tariffs on trade with the EU going forward. Whether a deal along these lines can be done remains highly uncertain.
In terms of the timetable for Brexit, May reaffirmed that she wants to agree the outlines of a future EU deal within 24 months of Article 50 being triggered. And she made it clear that she was open to transitional measures to avoid a “disruptive cliff-edge” after the two-year countdown for negotiations provided by Article 50 comes to an end.
One of the genuine surprises of May’s speech was that, for the first time, she committed to both houses of Parliament having a vote on any final Brexit deal that is agreed. She maintained that “Parliament remains sovereign.” It will also have a role when it comes to the “Great Repeal Bill,” which will scrap the UK’s 1972 European Communities Act, which gives effect to all EU law in the United Kingdom, and at the same time translate Brussels regulations into domestic law.
This issue of parliamentary sovereignty is timely as before the end of the month the Supreme Court is expected to rule on whether May has the power to trigger Article 50 through so-called prerogative powers, or whether she requires a formal act of parliament beforehand to do this. The decision could have important ramifications given that many legislators have different priorities to the government on Brexit. If the court rules that legislation is required, as many legal scholars expect, it may mean that Article 50 is not triggered until after the self-imposed March deadline that the prime minister has set.
May’s challenges could be biggest not in the Commons, but with pro-EU legislators in the Lords who are less susceptible to public opinion. Several have warned that the March deadline to trigger Article 50 may be impractical if legislation is indeed required.
Moreover, some legislators are now pushing for a public referendum on the final deal. Among them is former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, along with the wider Liberal Democrat Party. Clegg asserts there now should “be some means by which the British people can have a say on the final deal when the negotiations with the EU are finally completed in the years ahead.”
The government is opposed to this and would only change course very reluctantly. Some polls now show a majority of Brits support EU membership. And if the terms of exit were rejected in such a referendum, it could be a fatal blow for a prime minister who has staked her credibility on delivering Brexit.
On the 17th of January 2017, Prospect hosted a roundtable discussion with the contributors to: Brexit Britain: the trade challenge. This report is designed to act as a guide for parliamentarians, officials and businesses with a stake in the UK’s changing relationship with the world following Brexit. The discussion was chaired by Tom Clark, Editor of Prospect. Participants included Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh MP, Miriam González and Vicky Pryce.
To find out more about how you can become involved in Prospect’s Trade Challenge programme, please contact email@example.com
You can also receive the full “Brexit Britain: the trade challenge” report as a fully designed PDF document. To do so, simply enter your email below.
When you sign up for this free report, you will also join our free Prospect newsletter.
Prospect takes your privacy seriously. We promise never to rent or sell your e-mail address to any third party. You can unsubscribe from the Prospect newsletter at any time