Theresa May made a speech this morning at the CBI conference which was centred on sexual harassment and Westminster. The Prime Minister sounded a lot more confident on this topic than on Brexit, which popped up in the questions afterwards. Asked when the public would get to know if the transitional deal with the EU that is intended by the logic of the Florence speech to follow the March 2019 departure of Britain from the European Union was indeed going to happen and if so, what it might look like, May said this:
“First of all, as everybody will appreciate, we are in a negotiation with the European Union. What I have been clear about in the Florence speech is the sort of partnership the UK wants to see with EU 27 in the future. The implementation period – I believe first of all we need to get full agreement that this is something that will happen. Then we’ll need to negotiate the details. Of course, some of those details, you need to know what the end state is, what that future partnership is, because this is about practical change, moving to that future partnership. But I was clear in Florence that I think businesses should have the comfort of knowing that they will be able to operate on the same basis as they currently can during that implementation period.”
It feels like, from the Prime Minister’s response, we aren’t anywhere closer to getting this transitional deal nailed down. Also, the line “you need to know what the end state is, what that future partnership is” reveals more than intended. It isn’t clear at all what the UK’s realistic post-Brexit settlement looks like, so it feels very hard to imagine us moving to a place where the EU both understands and then accepts this vision. I take May’s point, is what I’m saying, but she’s missing out the crucial bit wherein the British government decides itself what it wants and then tries to negotiate with the EU to achieve it. We are seventeen months away from departure under Article 50 terms and we still don’t have the thing you should have on day one locked down – what you want out of the whole thing at the end.