Sunday, 4 March 2018

Mrs May's Mansion House Speech: Some Home Truths At Last

Source Guardian,  Standard YouTube Licence

 Jane Lambert

The Prime Minister's speech at the Mansion House on Friday has received a mixed reception.  According to Toby Helm "most Conservative MPs and peers gave the prime minister a period of grace after Friday’s address."  However, Lord Heseltine dismissed it as "more detail on a set of demands that the European Union had made clear all along it would never agree to" (see Tories’ Brexit unity fades as Heseltine slams May’s speech 2 March 2018 The Guardian).

I hold no brief for the Prime Minister, but I think that is a little unfair.  She did speak some home truths though I fear she may have pulled her punches:
  1. Brexit will be no bed of roses:  "We are leaving the single market. Life is going to be different. In certain ways, our access to each other's markets will be less than it is now. How could the EU's structure of rights and obligations be sustained, if the UK - or any country - were allowed to enjoy all the benefits without all of the obligations?"
  2. "Even after we have left the jurisdiction of the ECJ, EU law and the decisions of the ECJ will continue to affect us." Aside from the niggle that the initials "ECJ" are no longer used as that tribunal is now known as the Court of Justice of the European Union ("CJEU") and has been for many years, I welcome that remark.  It will make it easier to reach agreement on the withdrawal treaty and it may just make it possible for the UK to remain a party to the Uniform Patent Court Agreement.  On the other hand, she omitted to say that the UK will lose its judge and advocate general on the Court who have hugely influenced its decisions since 1973. 
  3. No State Aids or Featherbedding:  "If we want good access to each other's markets, it has to be on fair terms. As with any trade agreement, we must accept the need for binding commitments - for example, we may choose to commit some areas of our regulations like state aid and competition to remaining in step with the EU's."
The reason Mrs May had to say these things is that there has been a lot of wishful thinking about Brexit. Some have argued that the shock of the departure of its third largest member state would rip the EU apart. That could happen but there are no signs of its happening yet.  It is equally possible that the remaining member states could integrate more quickly and become stronger and more influential than ever. Another bit of wishful thinking is that German car manufacturers, Italian white goods makers and French farmers will force their governments to make concessions were we ever to play hardball. I have never understood that argument because we are not going to start making those goods in Britain or sourcing those goods from elsewhere. Tariffs might dent demand for EU goods and services but it won't destroy it and the business communities in those countries know it.  The fact is that the UK is not negotiating from a position of strength and will on many issues have to take what the remaining member states have to offer or leave it.

Finally, the Institute for Government has produced an excellent, tabulated analysis of the PM's speech with "Area" in come column, "What the Prime Minister said" in another and "What this means" in the third (see The Prime Minister's Mansion House Brexit speech 2 March 2018 The Guardian).  I was about to do my own analysis along similar lines but this is so much better.

Anyone wishing to discuss this article or Brexit in general should call me on +44 (0)20 7404 5252 during office hours or send me a message through my contact form.

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