British Prime Minister Theresa May played her Brexit hand in her keynote Florence speech – but has anything really changed.
She wanted to accomplish two objectives.
First to break the negotiating stalemate with the European Union
Second, at home party conference season is on the way and she needed to batten down her Brexit hatches to minimise incoming flak from Labour and her own Brexit rebels to safeguard her position as party leader.
Only history will record how she did.
£20 billion two-year transition
Her speech called for a two-year transition period in a single market halfway house to smooth Britain’s way out of the EU, and part of the smoothing of the path will involve offering some cash – up to £20 billion.
But besides that suggestion, the speech contained little else that was new.
The same stumbling blocks are still there and need talking through –
- What happens to the Northern Ireland border with Eire?
- How much is the divorce bill and what does Britain get for the money?
- Who will be the final arbiter of the rights of EU citizens in the UK – the EU courts or a British one?
EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier politely called the speech ‘constructive’ but asked for more detail.
French President Emanuel Macron echoed his comments in a call for more information. Next week, Macron will announce his proposals for EU reforms, underscoring the bloc’s determination to press ahead with a closer union that excludes the UK.
UK told to go if you are going
In Germany, where Angela Merkel is tied up with her own election issues this weekend, Brexit seems to mean little.
The feeling seems to be ‘if you are going, go’ and don’t hang around for a transition period.
Meanwhile, back in London, MPs grumbled about the transition delay and warned that voters would not be keen on the wait.
In truth, this is a fight May did not want as a remainer.
She inherited her role and then threw away her advantage by calling the snap election.
More than a year after the referendum, the government still seems to have no plan for Brexit or if the Brexit talks go wrong.