Theresa May’s Florence speech – My comments
Theresa May’s Florence speech on Brexit
on 22 September 2017
It’s good to be here in this great city of Florence today at a critical time in the evolution of the relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union.
The Prime Minister repeats twice her appreciation that relations are in a critical phase. The negotiations do not go well. The exchange between Boris Johnson, saxing that the EU could go whistle if they want money, and Michel Barnier, who has made clear, that he only hears the clock ticking, while time is running out, showed how tense the climate has become.
It was here, more than anywhere else, that the Renaissance began – a period of history that inspired centuries of creativity and critical thought across our continent and which in many ways defined what it meant to be European.
The European Union had been founded to start a new definition of what it meant to be European: away from the sovereign national states , away from the centuries of wars and genocide, away from nationalism, towards a common goal: a united Europe. The homage to the Renaissance may be a gesture towards the city of Florence, but even in the city of Machiavelli the modern European is defined by the Treaties of Rome that founded the European Communities. Mentioning Renaissance Europe ignoring the new Europe is symbolic for the backward looking attitude of British Tories.
A period of history whose example shaped the modern world. A period of history that teaches us that when we come together in a spirit of ambition and innovation, we have it within ourselves to do great things.
That shows us that if we open our minds to new thinking and new possibilities, we can forge a better, brighter future for all our peoples.
Every country and every government should strive for a better, brighter future. The European Union is the best example of new thinking, opening up new possibilities. 48% of the British people and the great majority of people in the other member states of the EU believe that Brexit is old thinking closing many possibilities for the younger generation.
And that is what I want to focus on today. For we are moving through a new and critical period in the history of the United Kingdom’s relationship with the European Union.
The British people have decided to leave the EU; and to be a global, free-trading nation, able to chart our own way in the world.
Just a little more than one third of the British people voted to leave, with a small margin against those who wanted to remain in the EU. Nearly one third did not vote at all. The people were told that the referendum was not obligatory, so voters had the wrong risk assessment. Brexiteers told them lies about the EU. Those warning about the consequences of leaving, were called scaremongers. To call this a decision of the people is at least daring.
For many, this is an exciting time, full of promise; for others it is a worrying one.
I look ahead with optimism, believing that if we use this moment to change not just our relationship with Europe, but also the way we do things at home, this will be a defining moment in the history of our nation.
For many it has become worrying, and those, who are still exited, will become worrying soon. It will be a defining moment in British history. But the change may not be for the better.
And it is an exciting time for many in Europe too. The European Union is beginning a new chapter in the story of its development. Just last week, President Juncker set out his ambitions for the future of the European Union.
There is a vibrant debate going on about the shape of the EU’s institutions and the direction of the Union in the years ahead. We don’t want to stand in the way of that.
Juncker’s ambitions are valuable but not always realistic. However, Britain often stood in the way of further integration – however, the Single Market has been deeply influenced by British Conservatives, especially Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. By leaving Britain will no longer be in the way – and some in the EU will welcome that.
Indeed, we want to be your strongest friend and partner as the EU, and the UK thrive side by side.
And that partnership is important. For as we look ahead, we see shared challenges and opportunities in common.
Look to the fine wording: no longer common but shared challenges and opportunities. The difference to membership in the Union is that the definition what is shared and what may not be shared is a sovereign decision for each side. And that makes the partnership very different from membership.
Here in Italy today, our two countries are working together to tackle some of the greatest challenges of our time; challenges where all too often geography has put Italy on the frontline.
As I speak, Britain’s Royal Navy, National Crime Agency and Border Force are working alongside their Italian partners to save lives in the Mediterranean and crack down on the evil traffickers who are exploiting desperate men, women and children who seek a better life.
Our two countries are also working together in the fight against terrorism – from our positions at the forefront of the international coalition against Daesh to our work to disrupt the networks terrorist groups use to finance their operations and recruit to their ranks.
And earlier this week, I was delighted that Prime Minister Gentiloni was able to join President Macron and myself in convening the first ever UN summit of government and industry to move further and faster in preventing terrorist use of the Internet.
Mass migration and terrorism are but two examples of the challenges to our shared European interests and values that we can only solve in partnership.
In her Lancaster House speech Theresa may already announced the will to continue cooperation in several security matters. I have no doubt that both, the EU and Britain, have great interest to continue such cooperation in the future. But today security cooperation is part of the EU – it would be a separate arrangement then. The change of the legal basis of this cooperation makes some of the existing arrangements impossible. New arrangements cannot include all topics of the security agenda. Wherever the balance between civil rights and security measures is concerned the EU cooperation is under the jurisdiction of the ECJ – explicitly not wanted by Britain.
The weakening growth of global trade; the loss of popular support for the forces of liberalism and free trade that is driving moves towards protectionism; the threat of climate change depleting and degrading the planet we leave for future generations; and most recently, the outrageous proliferation of nuclear weapons by North Korea with a threat to use them.
Here on our own continent, we see territorial aggression to the east; and from the South threats from instability and civil war; terrorism, crime and other challenges which respect no borders.
The only way for us to respond to this vast array of challenges is for likeminded nations and peoples to come together and defend the international order that we have worked so hard to create – and the values of liberty, democracy, human rights and the rule of law by which we stand.
Britain has always – and will always – stand with its friends and allies in defence of these values.
Cooperation in global political questions will certainly be wanted. But the United Kingdom will no longer be part of the Common Foreign and Security Politics. Since it is under the caveat of sovereign decisions of Britain it has a different degree of reliability. NATO would remain the forum for military cooperation.
Our decision to leave the European Union is in no way a repudiation of this longstanding commitment. We may be leaving the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe.
Theresa May here repeats the nice but rather empty formula from her Lancaster House speech that the country is not leaving Europe. Brexit means leaving from the deepest integration Europe has ever had. Britain gets more distant from Europe by making access to the island more difficult and unfriendly.
Our resolve to draw on the full weight of our military, intelligence, diplomatic and development resources to lead international action, with our partners, on the issues that affect the security and prosperity of our peoples is unchanged.
Our commitment to the defence – and indeed the advance – of our shared values is undimmed.
Our determination to defend the stability, security and prosperity of our European neighbours and friends remains steadfast.
Defence is dealt with in NATO. Defending values would be best served if Brexit is cancelled. Defending the prosperity of Britain would mean to remain in the EU.
The decision of the British people
And we will do all this as a sovereign nation in which the British people are in control.
Their decision to leave the institution of the European Union was an expression of that desire – a statement about how they want their democracy to work.
They want more direct control of decisions that affect their daily lives; and that means those decisions being made in Britain by people directly accountable to them.
The strength of feeling that the British people have about this need for control and the direct accountability of their politicians is one reason why, throughout its membership, the United Kingdom has never totally felt at home being in the European Union.
And perhaps because of our history and geography, the European Union never felt to us like an integral part of our national story in the way it does to so many elsewhere in Europe.
It is a matter of choices. The profound pooling of sovereignty that is a crucial feature of the European Union permits unprecedentedly deep cooperation, which brings benefits.
The idea of an integrated united Europe has in fact never taken a deep root in Britain. The explanation that the people expect a direct accountability of their politicians, is only half of the truth. The other is, that nationalists, jingoists, dreamers of the lost Empire, and a fanatic anti-European press have hammered it into the heads of most Britons that the European Communities and later the European Union were a devilish plot to make Britain suffer under the Brussels eurocrats.
But it also means that when countries are in the minority they must sometimes accept decisions they do not want, even affecting domestic matters with no market implications beyond their borders. And when such decisions are taken, they can be very hard to change.
The introduction of majority votes in the EU has been a decisive step to further the ever closer union. To renounce part of national sovereignty for the common good never has been popular in the United Kingdom. After the coalition Cameron-Clegg introduced the „Referendum Lock“, Britain would forever been a stumbling block against any further integration. With Brexit at least this will no longer endanger the future of the EU.
So the British electorate made a choice. They chose the power of domestic democratic control over pooling that control, strengthening the role of the UK Parliament and the devolved Scottish Parliament, Welsh and Northern Ireland Assemblies in deciding our laws.
Pooling sovereignty is a basic principle of building Europe. Britain has always been split over that principle. The European institutions are not yet organized like a sovereign state. It would be foolish to deny that there is still a democratic deficit in the EU institutions. But British media and most parties did not take the democratic institutions like the European parliament for serious and did nothing to fight for more European democracy. However, leaving the EU may be foolish, it may be complicated, but it is perfectly legitimate.
That is our choice. It does not mean we are no longer a proud member of the family of European nations. And it does not mean we are turning our back on Europe; or worse that we do not wish the EU to succeed. The success of the EU is profoundly in our national interest and that of the wider world.
But having made this choice, the question now is whether we – the leaders of Britain, and of the EU’s Member States and institutions – can demonstrate that creativity, that innovation, that ambition that we need to shape a new partnership to the benefit of all our people.
Creativity, innovation, ambition – these magic words come up ever and ever in the British narrative. Each of it is a good thing, but here it means that the EU should go outside of its normal rules and follow the British ambition to create innovative cherries to pick. This will not happen.
I believe we must. And I believe we can.
For while the UK’s departure from the EU is inevitably a difficult process, it is in all of our interests for our negotiations to succeed. If we were to fail, or be divided, the only beneficiaries would be those who reject our values and oppose our interests.
So I believe we share a profound sense of responsibility to make this change work smoothly and sensibly, not just for people today but for the next generation who will inherit the world we leave them.
Theresa May does not repeat her earlier outrageous verdict that no agreement could be better than a bad agreement. But since she seems to speak only to her Tory party she fails to adress the other Europeans‘ interests. For the next generation Brexit is a disaster – the old voted out the younger people who will suffer Brexit.
The eyes of the world are on us, but if we can be imaginative and creative about the way we establish this new relationship, if we can proceed on the basis of trust in each other, I believe we can be optimistic about the future we can build for the United Kingdom and for the European Union.
The eyes of the world are definitely not on Brexit-Britain – this is just a distraction, as Theresa May later admits. Lamentably the eyes of the British government are at their own navel, the Tory divisions. Negotiations could have started on the basis of trust. But several members of the British government were not inspiring any trust up to now. They were imaginative and creative only in a fantasy world.
In my speech at Lancaster House earlier this year, I set out the UK’s negotiating objectives.
Those still stand today. Since that speech and the triggering of Article 50 in March, the UK has published 14 papers to address the current issues in the talks and set out the building blocks of the relationship we would like to see with the EU, both as we leave, and into the future.
We have now conducted three rounds of negotiations. And while, at times, these negotiations have been tough, it is clear that, thanks to the professionalism and diligence of David Davis and Michel Barnier, we have made concrete progress on many important issues.
First of all the Prime Minister confirms her Lancaster House speech – and that means the hardest Brexit. The Florence speech does not change that goal. The Prime Minister acknowledges that she needs a transition period for that, but it does not change the end stadium: being a full non-member. Michel Barnier is a pragmatic and very polite man, but he has certainly quite a different view on the progress made in the negotiations.
For example, we have recognised from the outset there are unique issues to consider when it comes to Northern Ireland.
The UK government, the Irish government and the EU as a whole have been clear that through the process of our withdrawal we will protect progress made in Northern Ireland over recent years – and the lives and livelihoods that depend on this progress.
As part of this, we and the EU have committed to protecting the Belfast Agreement and the Common Travel Area and, looking ahead, we have both stated explicitly that we will not accept any physical infrastructure at the border.
We owe it to the people of Northern Ireland – and indeed to everyone on the island of Ireland – to see through these commitments.
On Northern Ireland the speech is pointless. She repeats the unteable position that you can have a hard border without border checks, you can have a free travel area with restrictions to EU-citizens to cross it. Michel Barnier has rightfully insisted that the British side come over with a realistic proposal how this could work.
Theresa May’s government depends on the votes of the DUP, the Ulster Unionists. That leads to the continued denial of reality on Northern Ireland. As long as Britain is not staying in the customs area of the EU – with all the consequences this has, e.g. no separate trade deals with third countries – the only workable solution to keep free movement on the island of Ireland is shifting the border controls to the sea and air traffic between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.
We have also made significant progress on how we look after European nationals living in the UK and British nationals living in the 27 Member States of the EU.
I know this whole process has been a cause of great worry and anxiety for them and their loved ones.
But I want to repeat to the 600,000 Italians in the UK – and indeed to all EU citizens who have made their lives in our country – that we want you to stay; we value you; and we thank you for your contribution to our national life – and it has been, and remains, one of my first goals in this negotiation to ensure that you can carry on living your lives as before.
I am clear that the guarantee I am giving on your rights is real. And I doubt anyone with real experience of the UK would doubt the independence of our courts or of the rigour with which they will uphold people’s legal rights.
But I know there are concerns that over time the rights of EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens overseas will diverge. I want to incorporate our agreement fully into UK law and make sure the UK courts can refer directly to it.
Where there is uncertainty around underlying EU law, I want the UK courts to be able to take into account the judgments of the European Court of Justice with a view to ensuring consistent interpretation. On this basis, I hope our teams can reach firm agreement quickly.
The Prime Minister is trying to assure EU citizens who are needed to keep basic services in the UK running that their rights will be respected. There is a new tone, when she refers to the ECJ judgements. However, finally it is British courts which will judge on these rights in the future, “able to take into account” the ECJ judgements, but possibly neither willing to do so nor giving any guarantee to the EU citizens. I understand that the Prime Minister fears that EU-citizens could have more rights than British citizens for example in the issue of family members having the right to come to Britain. But there is nothing impeding the government to give the same rights also to British citizens.
And she mentions “the loved ones”. The scandalous behaviour of the British Home Office (George Orwell would call it „Ministry of Love“) against family members of EU citizens – even some who were married to British citizens – speaks another language. It was called an error later, but it warns everybody not to rely on British bureaucracy and judges to actually respect the rights the EU citizens have up to now.
EU citizens are invited to continue to come during the transition period after the Brexit date, but must register then. For what ? To be deported by the Home Office after the transition – or to stop any family members continuing to live in Britain ? It is true that Britain will need EU-citizens to work in the country to ensure basic needs of the NHS or the agriculture. But the climate has become xenophobic. When Theresa May speaks of trust as the basis of future relations: here are the cases where trust has been destroyed by the behaviour of British officials.
At the moment, the negotiations are focused on the arrangements for the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. But we need to move on to talk about our future relationship.
Theresa May wants that negotiations move on to talk about the future relationship. But it was made out to agree on some basic topics first – once again the British government wants to get away from the scenario agreed upon. The 27 are well advised not to give in here, because there are no solutions offered up to now for the basics of the divorce. This is another cheap attempt to avoid solutions for financial obligations, EU citizens, and Northern Ireland and make these points bargaining chips in broader negotiations. The EU will not like this idea.
Of course, we recognise that we can’t leave the EU and have everything stay the same. Life for us will be different.
But what we do want – and what we hope that you, our European friends, want too – is to stay as partners who carry on working together for our mutual benefit.
In short, we want to work hand in hand with the European Union, rather than as part of the European Union.
That is why in my speech at Lancaster House I said that the United Kingdom would seek to secure a new, deep and special partnership with the European Union.
And this should span both a new economic relationship and a new relationship on security.
Recognizing that not everything can stay the same after leaving is fine, but what does that mean ? The Prime Minister still seems to underestimate that nearly everything changes by leaving. Britain is not just leaving the “common market”, it is leaving all structures of cooperation that have been built up inside the EU. This is not a process of opt-out and re-opt-in as you go.
The British debate – mainly between the wings of the Tory party without taking into account that the other 27 also have interests – still sounds as if leaving is a kind of renegotiation: staying in nearly everything with some exceptions. Why then leave at all ? Why then only cut some obligations and keep the rest of the cherries picked ? This is pure fantasy.
So let me set out what each of these relationships could look like – before turning to the question of how we get there.
Let me start with the economic partnership.
The United Kingdom is leaving the European Union. We will no longer be members of its single market or its customs union. For we understand that the single market’s four freedoms are indivisible for our European friends.
We recognise that the single market is built on a balance of rights and obligations. And we do not pretend that you can have all the benefits of membership of the single market without its obligations.
It is important that Theresa May recognizes that the four freedoms are indivisible, such that nobody can have all the benefits of the single market without its obligations. So far so good. She seems to believe that you could have some – just not all – of the benefits of the single market. This is not the case. A country outside of the EU has to negotiate the whole area of economic relations – but that is different from the single market.
So our task is to find a new framework that allows for a close economic partnership but holds those rights and obligations in a new and different balance.
A new balance of rights and obligations will have to be found outside the EU. She is right to look for a new framework. But look at the little word “those”: there is no talk about those same rights and obligations which characterize the single market – it is really a new framework outside of the single market and the customs union – and so excluding what is the essence of both.
But as we work out together how to do so, we do not start with a blank sheet of paper, like other external partners negotiating a free trade deal from scratch have done.
In fact, we start from an unprecedented position. For we have the same rules and regulations as the EU – and our EU Withdrawal Bill will ensure they are carried over into our domestic law at the moment we leave the EU.
So the question for us now in building a new economic partnership is not how we bring our rules and regulations closer together, but what we do when one of us wants to make changes.
It is in fact a great advantage that Britain and the EU start the new relationship with the same set of rules. But it is not only the rules which must be the same but also the reliable common mechanisms of making the rules work. This will be taken away on the day of leaving the EU. For Britain there is no longer the Commission which can fine Google for breaking competition rules, there is no longer the ECJ to guarantee a consistent legal framework. Each time when one side makes changes to the rules there is a danger to tip the framework off balance. This would also happen if the British judiciary comes to slightly different views or the House of Commons decides in a way incompatible with the framework. And actual experience shows that logic and consistency are not the strong side of British politicians. New negotiations may be necessary each time then – and there is no appetite in the EU for such bureaucratic procedures.
The Withdrawal law with it’s Henry-VIII-powers could even give a lower-ranking British minister the possibility to make changes that could upset the whole arrangement. The political will to avoid such scenarios cannot substitute legal guarantees.
One way of approaching this question is to put forward a stark and unimaginative choice between two models: either something based on European Economic Area membership; or a traditional Free Trade Agreement, such as that the EU has recently negotiated with Canada.
Dear Theresa May: do not insult Canada, Norway or Switzerland ! Neither the arrangements with the EEA area, nor the many Free Trade Agreements like the one with Canada are unimaginative. The opposite is the case. It took many years of negotiations where both sides contributed with a lot of creativity to a well balanced outcome. It would be advisable that your negotiators look closer to these agreements and don’t try to invent the wheel again.
I fully understand that Britain may wishes to address some points which are reflecting the very special situation of the country, like the position of its financial sector. But the existing arrangements show where the balance of rights and obligations can be – because any new framework with Britain must be consistent with the agreements the EU has with others.
To be clear: Britain cannot expect more or even the same rights than EEA countries while having less obligations, if Britain wishes more than a free trade agreement, but less than EEA membership, that means in all cases less rights than EEA countries have and more obligation than normally coming with a free trade agreement. Theresa May seems to have recognized that it is in Britains interest to have the obligations of a free trade agreement with the rights of an EEA member state: THIS IS NOT ON OFFER !
I don’t believe either of these options would be best for the UK or best for the European Union.
European Economic Area membership would mean the UK having to adopt at home – automatically and in their entirety – new EU rules. Rules over which, in future, we will have little influence and no vote.
The British people chose to give up their influence and vote in the EU – other than the leave campaign said, this implied giving up democratic control by the Council, where elected governments vote, and the European Parliament, directly elected by the people, and in the Commission where Britain always could punch above it’s weight having a lot of influence through the British Commissioners.
Now Britain wants to keep the economic rights without accepting the EEA obligations. There is just no logic in this – this is Lie-Lie-Land (I found this sprayed on a wall in Islington). The influence was given up by the people and for the people. The Leave campaign did not tell the people what it means to give up that influence – but the government accepts that the non-obligatory referendum based on lies and disinformation is valid – so do not complain about the automatic loss of influence. With more influence Britain would get more rights than EEA members – so then please offer the MORE obligations and not less than EEA members do have.
Such a loss of democratic control could not work for the British people. I fear it would inevitably lead to friction and then a damaging re-opening of the nature of our relationship in the near future: the very last thing that anyone on either side of the Channel wants.
Theresa May is right: the ill-informed British debate has given the people the idea that taking back control needs a complete cancelling of obligations towards the EU. And the evil media who led the propaganda war against the EU for decades will stay in place and work together with right-wing Tories and illusionary Labour to keep prejudices alive. Therefore there is no friction-less way to re-opt-in into new obligations towards the EU. A government that has no will to fight head-on against the demagogues and liars in the own party and in the “Daily Mail” or the “Sun”, will not be able to do that. Only splitting up the Tories may end this.
At the same time it is not in the interest of the EU to make arrangements with the UK, that are not backed by the British government and the main opposition party. As long as the obligations and rights of any agreement are not actively promoted in the UK, as long as the government fights for keeping the Tories together and not for keeping Britain and the EU closely together, permanent friction is programmed.
Like Tony Blair before, the Prime Minister Theresa May did not dare to speak friendly of the European Union in the House of Commons. Blair made all his EU-friendly speeches outside of Britain. What I would expect is a strong speech in the British Parliament and a permanent and thorough debate on the pros and cons of all kind of proposals and not just the ritual of Prime Minister’s Questions. Is the British government frightened by the elected Members of Parliament ?
As for a Canadian style free trade agreement, we should recognise that this is the most advanced free trade agreement the EU has yet concluded and a breakthrough in trade between Canada and the EU.
But compared with what exists between Britain and the EU today, it would nevertheless represent such a restriction on our mutual market access that it would benefit neither of our economies.
Not only that, it would start from the false premise that there is no pre-existing regulatory relationship between us. And precedent suggests that it could take years to negotiate.
We can do so much better than this.
This is different from the Lancaster House speech. It seems that business leaders have made it crystal clear to the Prime Minister that “just a free trade agreement” would leave Britain in a position – like every other third country – much less advantageous than now. But the Lancaster House speech was more consistent: the referendum just meant leaving the pre-existing regulatory relationship for becoming a third country to the EU. Now Theresa May rowing back and wants much more. With that the dilemma is back: a soft Brexit set of rights is not compatible with a hard Brexit set of obligations. Let me repeat the lesson: there is no having the cake and eating it, in the end you will get no cake at all, only Boris to digest.
As I said at Lancaster House, let us not seek merely to adopt a model already enjoyed by other countries. Instead let us be creative as well as practical in designing an ambitious economic partnership which respects the freedoms and principles of the EU, and the wishes of the British people.
I believe there are good reasons for this level of optimism and ambition.
That is the famous “bespoke agreement”, that should – as Boris Johnson had always said – allow to “eat the cake and keep it”. Once again: this is not on offer! The existing agreements with Norway and Switzerland are excluded because of unacceptable obligations, but a special arrangement is wanted for having more rights than these countries. What an ambition. Even the greatest creativity cannot beat simple logic, that is absent here.
Theresa May is right to strive for an ambitious economic partnership which respects the freedoms and principles of the EU, but this is not compatible with what the British government believes is the wishes of the British people (these wishes may have changed, as the election result showed. But the Tories do not dare to ask about these changes). This is not compatible with what the right-wing Tory majority wants, this is even not compatible with the fantasies growing in the Labour Party about a soft Brexit without free movement. Everything less than the Norway model does just not deserve the word „ambitious“.
First of all, the UK is the EU’s largest trading partner, one of the largest economies in the world, and a market of considerable importance for many businesses and jobs across the continent. And the EU is our largest trading partner, so it is in all our interests to find a creative solution.
These facts would have been a good reason to think twice about the referendum. Now the trade figures may change, the role of Britain will be diminished. Trade flows may change if tariffs are introduced. But even without tariffs trade will also suffer from the mere bureaucracy and procedures linked to being outside of the single market. These are non-tariff barriers the British people freely chose. And trade will suffer most of all from breaking production chains, which will cost dearly.
The European Union has shown in the past that creative arrangements can be agreed in other areas. For example, it has developed a diverse array of arrangements with neighbouring countries outside the EU, both in economic relations and in justice and home affairs.
The Prime Minister is looking desperately for precedents of arrangements between the EEA and “neighbouring countries outside the EU”. But what is that: the customs agreement with Turkey had been concluded in view of a possible later EU-membership of Turkey. The Erdogan regime has made any membership impossible for a long time and the customs agreement may not hold for a long time. The other neighbourhood-agreements with Ukraine and other former Soviet area states would certainly not be the kind of agreement Theresa may hopes for.
Furthermore, we share the same set of fundamental beliefs; a belief in free trade, rigorous and fair competition, strong consumer rights, and that trying to beat other countries’ industries by unfairly subsidising one’s own is a serious mistake.
So there is no need to impose tariffs where we have none now, and I don’t think anyone sensible is contemplating this.
The British people were deceived. The government does as if anything like tariffs are “imposed” after leaving. This is not true: nothing is imposed, nothing has to be contemplated.
The tariffs are there, the rulebook for third countries is in place and is still applied by British customs towards third countries outside of the EU. Choosing to leave Britain automatically chose to apply the EU-tariff-book to itself. Any negotiation to keep trade going on must then be a give-and-take negotiation. Leaving brings Britain into a much worse condition than any of the 40 something countries, like Canada, that already have a free trade agreement with the EU.
And as we have set out in a future partnership paper, when it comes to trade in goods, we will do everything we can to avoid friction at the border. But of course the regulatory issues are crucial.
Friction at the border is just inevitable if you do not open it for all goods. You can study this at any British border control for individuals entering the UK even from the EU. At my last visit to London two weeks ago I arrived in Luton. Families with children under 12 – not allowed to use the electronic gates – EU-citizens and British citizens still in the same line, waited for one and a half hours to be processed by just two, later three border officers, friendly but rather inefficient. This was an intolerable mess for the families with their crying offspring – controlled as if they were potential terrorists. This was everything but friction-less. So I am not at all optimistic about the promises for a friction-less border for goods and for persons.
German bureaucracy is quite a horror, EU bureaucracy at least more qualified, but there is no hint at all that national British bureaucracy will be any better.
We share a commitment to high regulatory standards.
People in Britain do not want shoddy goods, shoddy services, a poor environment or exploitative working practices and I can never imagine them thinking those things to be acceptable.
The government I lead is committed not only to protecting high standards, but strengthening them.
Keeping standards by having the same rules is a good start, but keeping standards also implies having them controlled and tested by common EU institutions trusted by the EU member states. British authorities will no longer be under the control of the EU. Testing EU-compliance is no longer possible by British authorities. That means the control of meeting the high standards has to be done at the outside border of the EU. If Dyson vacuum cleaners have problems with EU rules now, this is processed inside the EU – may be on British soil – in the future they must be well tested possibly on French soil before entering any shop in the EU.
So I am optimistic about what we can achieve by finding a creative solution to a new economic relationship that can support prosperity for all our peoples.
A year after the referendum the talk about creative solutions is not enough. The British people must be told the truth about the options that are possible and about what is incompatible with logic and political reality.
Now in any trading relationship, both sides have to agree on a set of rules which govern how each side behaves.
So we will need to discuss with our European partners new ways of managing our interdependence and our differences, in the context of our shared values.
Even if Theresa May speaks of “any trading relationship” this is not at all an affair of “both sides” to agree. Trade rules are multilateral today. Even in case of a cliff-edge leave on first of April 2019 the set of rules of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) automatically apply to trade between Britain and the EU. The EU tariffs and other trading rules automatically apply to Britain. On that basis starts the negotiation on whatever both sides want to agree to make the relationship different and closer. And even that is not a tabula rasa. Existing other agreements have to be taken into account. When the Prime Minister said in Florence, that EEA is no option, that means a clear constraint for any negotiations: whatever the outcome, Britain wants less obligations and therefore can only get less rights than any EEA members do have.
There will be areas of policy and regulation which are outside the scope of our trade and economic relations where this should be straightforward.
Why should that be straightforward ? The policies and regulations outside the trade and economic relations are as important for EU members than any other cooperation. The EU is a political union – something never really understood well in Britain. Leaving them also means being out of the whole set of non-economic cooperation schemes of the EU. And it is not straightforward, because there is no simple opt-in, especially not without full compliance with the European Court of Justice.
There will be areas which do affect our economic relations where we and our European friends may have different goals; or where we share the same goals but want to achieve them through different means.
And there will be areas where we want to achieve the same goals in the same ways, because it makes sense for our economies.
And because rights and obligations must be held in balance, the decisions we both take will have consequences for the UK’s access to European markets and vice versa.
First of all this is a description of negotiations between sovereign entities. We will indeed find out where we have the same goals, possibly the same methods to achieve them and to balance rights with obligations. So far so good.
The United Kingdom was renowned for cherry-picking inside the EU. Theresa May never takes into account that the 27 EU states and the EU as an institution also have their own interests. But you can only know your options if you are able to put yourself into the other’s shoes and think what may be possible and attractive for the EU. Otherwise it would look like trying cherry picking from the outside. But the UK no longer sits with the others in the cherry tree, it has to buy the cherries in the market and offer a price for each one.
To make this partnership work, because disagreements inevitably arise, we will need a strong and appropriate dispute resolution mechanism.
It is, of course, vital that any agreement reached – its specific terms and the principles on which it is based – are interpreted in the same way by the European Union and the United Kingdom and we want to discuss how we do that.
This could not mean the European Court of Justice – or indeed UK courts – being the arbiter of disputes about the implementation of the agreement between the UK and the EU however.
It wouldn’t be right for one party’s court to have jurisdiction over the other. But I am confident we can find an appropriate mechanism for resolving disputes.
Here the Prime Minister has a point. As long as the new framework is one between two fully sovereign bodies there cannot be a jurisdiction of the courts of one side over the other. However, then other appropriate conflict resolution mechanisms have to be put in place. But Theresa May wants more than just a deal between sovereign bodies, she wants to be admitted to at least some club rooms or if not the golf course of the club – and there club rules apply – and it is not in the competence of a member to apply his or her own judicial expertise. So the conflict resolution mechanisms will depend on the kind of relationship. There may be topics which could be referred to some special arbitration as they are common in free trade agreements. The closer the relationship the more the European Court of Justice may be implied.
So this new economic partnership, would be comprehensive and ambitious. It would be underpinned by high standards, and a practical approach to regulation that enables us to continue to work together in bringing shared prosperity to our peoples for generations to come.
Only a warning: people like to speak about a “practical approach to regulation” if they do not like the legal aspect of it. This is not how a system of legal obligations works. British case law gives judges much space for interpreting the law in view of practical implications. That makes case law more flexible, but at the same time the insecurity, when going to court, is much higher. On the continent judges also love to have more leeway to change the direction originally given by parliament to comply with their views and prejudices, but this is a danger for the rule of law. Case law is often the rule of lawyers instead of the rule of law. The different legal traditions make all kind of conflict resolution between the UK and the EU very tricky.
Let me turn to the new security relationship that we want to see.
To keep our people safe and to secure our values and interests, I believe it is essential that, although the UK is leaving the EU, the quality of our cooperation on security is maintained.
The Prime Minister should tell the truth to the people: Leaving the EU also means automatically to leave those institutions and schemes that have to be controlled by the ECJ, like the European Arrest Warrant, Eurojust and Europol. Nothing of that is “maintained”. And if Theresa May wants to maintain it she needs a negotiated settlement on each of the areas.
I agree that it would be a very good idea to have such settlements, but leaving the EU cannot mean to stay in everything you like and leaving where you don’t like the obligations. So future agreements may be much more limited because everything which is bound to EU-membership may not be included. How could the UK expect that it could have access to the Schengen Information System – an access offered up to now, even without Britain joining the Schengen area of free travel – if data protection is no longer guaranteed by the ECJ?
We believe we should be as open-minded as possible about how we continue to work together on what can be life and death matters.
Our security co-operation is not just vital because our people face the same threats, but also because we share a deep, historic belief in the same values – the values of peace, democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
Of course, there is no pre-existing model for co-operation between the EU and external partners which replicates the full scale and depth of the collaboration that currently exists between the EU and the UK on security, law enforcement and criminal justice.
But as the threats we face evolve faster than ever, I believe it is vital that we work together to design new, dynamic arrangements that go beyond the existing arrangements that the EU has in this area – and draw on the legal models the EU has previously used to structure co-operation with external partners in other fields such as trade.
Having shared values and shared interests was the basic foundation of British EU membership. The Prime Minister said: there is no model for the close cooperation in security matters outside the EU structures. I firmly believe that the EU should have an interest to cooperate with Britain on security matters. But this cannot imply a membership by the backdoor. Even now British security relations are rather restrictive with other EU countries. None of them has ever been included in the five-eyes arrangements on sharing intelligence. The main security relationship will be through NATO. It would be very helpful if Britain helps to get rid of the blockade caused by Turkey on EU-NATO cooperation.
Fighting terror and crime is a common goal. But there are differences on method and there are ECJ judgments (some of which not really helpful) which Britain may not accept – making cooperation legally impossible. There may and there should be cooperation WITH EU-institutions on security, but there will not be cooperation IN EU-institutions, because that is restricted to members.
So we are proposing a bold new strategic agreement that provides a comprehensive framework for future security, law enforcement and criminal justice co-operation: a treaty between the UK and the EU.
This would complement the extensive and mature bi-lateral relationships that we already have with European friends to promote our common security.
Our ambition would be to build a model that is underpinned by our shared principles, including high standards of data protection and human rights.
It would be kept sufficiently versatile and dynamic to respond to the ever-evolving threats that we face. And it would create an ongoing dialogue in which law enforcement and criminal justice priorities can be shared and – where appropriate – tackled jointly.
The proposal for a strategic cooperation is a good proposal. But any treaty has to be compatible with EU rules to be applied in the EU. That already made it very difficult to agree about data exchanges with the US, and it will not be easy with the UK given that the balance between civil liberties and the scope of secret services is even now quite different from the systems in place in the EU leading to frictions with the ECJ. If this philosophy will be further strengthened in the UK after leaving -which I expect – then cooperation may lamentably be blocked by the European Court of Justice (and the non-EU European Court of Human Rights of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg).
We are also proposing a far reaching partnership on how we protect Europe together from the threats we face in the world today; how we work together to promote our shared values and interests abroad; whether security, spreading the rule of law, dealing with emerging threats, handling the migration crisis or helping countries out of poverty.
This sounds quite arrogant. Certainly the British contribution to European defence through NATO is very valuable, but any attempts to give the EU stronger defence structures have consistently been blocked by the United Kingdom. France and Germany may pay less for armament, but still have considerable forces, France also being a nuclear power. So Europe is also protecting Britain – and has done so during the whole cold war, where divided Germany had been at the front line between East and West. Security partnership has been and has to be mutual.
As the Prime Minister correctly remarks such a partnership must be based on a separate treaty and cannot be a vehicle to stay in EU-institutions with a voice and a vote.
The United Kingdom has outstanding capabilities. We have the biggest defence budget in Europe, and one of the largest development budgets in the world. We have a far-reaching diplomatic network, and world class security, intelligence and law enforcement services.
To compliment the Prime Ministers: there is no need to make Britain great again – it still is a great country and I deeply respect it. Today the question is why Britain wants to make itself small again. However in details it has to be seen what Britain can offer in addition of existing obligations in NATO. As far as the development budget is concerned I understand that the British contribution to the EU budget is part of the 0.7% goal – where the UK is one of the very few countries that comply with this commitment. Will the British government continue to fund EU development aid or take the same sum into the national development budget ? In the latter case Boris Johnson should be informed in time to avoid another gaffe on the famous crawling back of money in favour of the NHS.
So what we are offering will be unprecedented in its breadth, taking in cooperation on diplomacy, defence and security, and development.
And it will be unprecedented in its depth, in terms of the degree of engagement that we would aim to deliver.
It is our ambition to work as closely as possible together with the EU, protecting our people, promoting our values and ensuring the future security of our continent.
The United Kingdom is unconditionally committed to maintaining Europe’s security. And the UK will continue to offer aid and assistance to EU member states that are the victims of armed aggression, terrorism and natural or manmade disasters.
This is mainly the commitment the UK made being a member of NATO. It should not be mixed up with the commitments that are existing within EU structures which Britain is leaving.
Taken as a whole, this bold new security partnership will not only reflect our history and the practical benefits of co-operation in tackling shared threats, but also demonstrate the UK’s genuine commitment to promoting our shared values across the world and to maintaining a secure and prosperous Europe.
That is the partnership I want Britain and the European Union to have in the future.
None of its goals should be controversial. Everything I have said is about creating a long-term relationship through which the nations of the European Union and the United Kingdom can work together for the mutual benefit of all our people.
If none of the goals is uncontroversial, the United Kingdom could perfectly remain in the European Union, guarantee free movement and settlement for EU citizens, recognize the jurisdiction of the ECJ and pay into the common budget to attain these goals.
If we adopt this vision of a deep and special partnership, the question is then how we get there: how we build a bridge from where we are now to where we want to be.
This is really the big question. First of all it is a bit difficult to make plans for the construction of a bridge when your knowledge about the other side of the river is still very rudimentary. We even do not yet know if politics will more be like a river between us, or a deep English Channel. Leaving the EU is like filling the tunnel under the Channel to France and propose a new tunnel to be built at some nice place yet to be found.
The United Kingdom will cease to be a member of the European Union on 29th March 2019.
We will no longer sit at the European Council table or in the Council of Ministers, and we will no longer have Members of the European Parliament.
OK, Theresa May seems to believe that all remainers and remoaners should shut up. Britain is leaving, there will be no revocation, the cliff edge is before us, and we try our best to postpone it for two years but it is still the cliff edge wainting for everybody.
A bold Prime Minister should have said: we have found out how complex the whole Brexit is, we need a lot of time and should discuss it in details if this really was a good idea. The success of her speech could be seen in the moment Boris Johnson spontaneously resigns and David Davis gets angry, Philip Hammond smiling, but still without an idea how to manage this. But in Florence there was no bold Prime minister.
Our relations with countries outside the EU can be developed in new ways, including through our own trade negotiations, because we will no longer be an EU country, and we will no longer directly benefit from the EU’s future trade negotiations.
This is the point made for keeping Liam Fox happy. But this explicitly excludes once more anything near to remain in a common customs area. This explicitly implies a hard customs border in Northern Ireland in case this is not shifted to the sea and air borders between Belfast and Holyhead – with EU customs controlling there together with British customs.
But the fact is that, at that point, neither the UK – nor the EU and its Members States – will be in a position to implement smoothly many of the detailed arrangements that will underpin this new relationship we seek.
Neither is the European Union legally able to conclude an agreement with the UK as an external partner while it is itself still part of the European Union.
And such an agreement on the future partnership will require the appropriate legal ratification, which would take time.
It is also the case that people and businesses – both in the UK and in the EU – would benefit from a period to adjust to the new arrangements in a smooth and orderly way.
As I said in my speech at Lancaster House a period of implementation would be in our mutual interest. That is why I am proposing that there should be such a period after the UK leaves the EU.
Clearly people, businesses and public services should only have to plan for one set of changes in the relationship between the UK and the EU.
A period of implementation is a necessity for Britain, because it is utterly unprepared for Brexit. But it is an illusion that the difficulties to implement will go away after a transition period. The self-inflicted wounds of Brexit will break up anyway whenever the UK jumps off the cliff. The EU has no interest in Britain being hurt, but if it is the choice of the British government to jump at any moment even after a transition the EU can do very little to stop that.
So during the implementation period access to one another’s markets should continue on current terms and Britain also should continue to take part in existing security measures. And I know businesses, in particular, would welcome the certainty this would provide.
The framework for this strictly time-limited period, which can be agreed under Article 50, would be the existing structure of EU rules and regulations.
How long the period is should be determined simply by how long it will take to prepare and implement the new processes and new systems that will underpin that future partnership.
The two year period devised in Article 50 for an exit from the EU has been deliberately chosen to make clear to anybody who wants to leave that no protracted bankruptcy will be tolerated and no indefinite postponing of the consequences is acceptable. Britain already played against the clock and lost a lot of time for implementation by its chaotic negotiation strategy. A prolongation of that period must be voted in the same European parliament the Prime Minister snubbed by not accepting the invitation to speak to the plenary there.
The proposal of the Prime Minister is, however, not wrong. Business needs time to adapt, people must take their decisions, all in the light of the results of the negotiations knowing what will be the future relationship and their future rights and obligations – and costs. Companies in the financial sector that leave the UK because of Brexit would need enough time to settle in remaining EU countries. Germany, France, the Netherlands and Ireland may need time to offer the appropriate infrastructure to receive the experts, the workers, the doctors and the nurses leaving from the UK to their countries.
For example, it will take time to put in place the new immigration system required to re-take control of the UK’s borders.
So during the implementation period, people will continue to be able to come and live and work in the UK; but there will be a registration system – an essential preparation for the new regime.
When Britain is outside of the EU, it may treat EU citizens as good and as bad as it wants – certainly within the framework of what is agreed with the EU under the new framework, and within the scope of the human rights and dignity of everybody. The actual treatment of EU-citizens will have a deep impact on the quality of the future relationship. If people are treated inappropriately, as was already tested by the Home Office recently, relations will become sour very early.
As of today, these considerations point to an implementation period of around two years.
This is just not enough. My estimate is that after a two-years period the cliff edge is still very high: no longer Beachy Head but still Dover cliff. In my view it should be ten years – and then a second referendum may be held to ask people if they really want to jump then. Negotiations about a comprehensive treaty will be far more complex than Theresa May seems to believe.
But because I don’t believe that either the EU or the British people will want the UK to stay longer in the existing structures than is necessary, we could also agree to bring forward aspects of that future framework such as new dispute resolution mechanisms more quickly if this can be done smoothly.
This is the dilemma. Nobody in the British Tory government has the courage to speak out that leaving the structures is a mess, nobody has a good word about the fact that the EU is quite attractive – at the same time the negotiators want to keep as much of the EU as possible, while telling the people that Leaving is exciting and means full sovereignty. This is double-speak and not credible. If the government and the Tories are not credible, and the opposition keeps illusions alive, then the people get the wrong impression that even temporarily remaining is an imposed solution. The EU will not impose any transition. But if the UK needs one. The EU may offer a sensible solution, but certainly no cherry picking. It is not possible to have access to the market without full EU jurisdiction.
It is clear that what would be most helpful to people and businesses on both sides, who want this process to be smooth and orderly, is for us to agree the detailed arrangements for this implementation period as early as possible. Although we recognise that the EU institutions will need to adopt a formal position.
And at the heart of these arrangements, there should be a clear double lock: a guarantee that there will be a period of implementation giving businesses and people alike the certainty that they will be able to prepare for the change; and a guarantee that this implementation period will be time-limited, giving everyone the certainty that this will not go on for ever.
This is hard Brexit wrapped up into a soft implementation. The Prime Minister should accept that the EU may have a different interest. I do not exclude a compromise, certainly not at the expense of the EU . What Britain is „offering“ is only to have less damage for itself. caused by this disastrous Brexit. What if the 27 think that it is better not to prolong the period of insecurity, why have a country in the single market any longer that only prepares to leave it. I believe that a transition period could be more attractive for the EU if it leaves a chance to reverse Brexit at the end of that period.
These arrangements will create valuable certainty.
But in this context I am conscious that our departure causes another type of uncertainty for the remaining member states and their taxpayers over the EU budget.
Some of the claims made on this issue are exaggerated and unhelpful and we can only resolve this as part of the settlement of all the issues I have been talking about today.
Britain honouring its commitments is legally binding and not subject to haggling. There may be minor differences on what belongs to the commitments and what does not. However, these were spending commitments which are public and well known. There is nothing to negotiate – it’s about stating the bill after the meal has been ordered. Legal commitments can neither be exaggerated nor unhelpful, they can only be existing or non-existing. The whole debate in Britain about the sums involved is utterly misleading the people: the final sum is the result of looking into all details of the bill, identifying what belongs there, and summing everything up. It is mathematics not haggling.
Still I do not want our partners to fear that they will need to pay more or receive less over the remainder of the current budget plan as a result of our decision to leave. The UK will honour commitments we have made during the period of our membership.
The United Kingdom has always been a net payer in the European Union even after getting a rebate. With that money less prosperous member states could be charged a somewhat lower contribution to the common budget – just as in any modern tax system the richer should pay more taxes than the poorer (This principle is broken, when the biggest companies get away with huge tax avoidance schemes!). When Britain leaves paying customs tariffs and other duties at the border will also cost some amount. If the ideas of the prime Minister of an enhanced partnership come true, this will also imply that Britain pays a share for all activities agreed upon. Since each financial arragement will have to be separately negotiated, the new framework implies a lot more bureaucracy than ever before, when Britain was inside the Union.
And as we move forwards, we will also want to continue working together in ways that promote the long-term economic development of our continent.
This includes continuing to take part in those specific policies and programmes which are greatly to the UK and the EU’s joint advantage, such as those that promote science, education and culture – and those that promote our mutual security.
All these programs are designed to make the EU become an ever closer union. They are not made for third countries that do not share this goal. There is certainly an interest to have good relations in all these fields. But there are no cherries to be picked without membership.
And as I set out in my speech at Lancaster House, in doing so, we would want to make an ongoing contribution to cover our fair share of the costs involved.
The share of costs involved will not be institutional costs of EU Institutions but shared costs of programs agreed upon. What will happen when switching from institutional membership to co-financed bilateral programs? It means: good cooperation: yes; a voice or a vote in EU-programs: No way !
When I gave my speech at the beginning of this year I spoke not just about the preparations we were making for a successful negotiation but also about our preparations for our life outside the European Union – with or without what I hope will be a successful deal.
And the necessary work continues on all these fronts so that we are able to meet any eventual outcome.
It is not only my impression that the necessary works of which the Prime Minister speaks have not even begun, and the only thing continuing is the chaotic debate full of fantasy far from reality.
But as we meet here today, in this city of creativity and rebirth, let us open our minds to the possible.
Doing the possible would be a real step forward: the speech lamentably does not take into account what is possible for the EU. It is already a progress to read that the Prime Minister now knows that the EU is firm about the four principles of freedom of goods, services, capital and people. But the proposals about the transition and the endgame are still very vague, logically contradictory and with the old tendency to cherry pick what the UK wants, without even caring what others may think.
To a new era of cooperation and partnership between the United Kingdom and the European Union. And to a stronger, fairer, more prosperous future for us all.
For that is the prize if we get this negotiation right.
A sovereign United Kingdom and a confident European Union, both free to chart their own course.
To call that desastreous Brexit a prize is quite cynical !
A new partnership of values and interests.
Hopefully: but the speech tells about British values and interests, the others do not really count much. May be only Renaissance values to be found in Machiavelli’s Prince.
A new alliance that can stand strongly together in the world.
The strong alliance for our security – even if weaker than during the cold war – is NATO. An alliance of the United Kingdom with the EU is a good thing, but the British terms are not really attractive for the others. The lack of progress in the basics: Northern Ireland, financial obligations, and treatment of EU citizens – is very unhelpful to believe in such an alliance.
That is the goal towards which we must work in the months ahead as the relationship between Britain and Europe evolves.
However it does so, I am clear that Britain’s future is bright.
Theresa May may and must say so. I would love if she is right. But doubts persist.
Our fundamentals are strong: a legal system respected around the world; a keen openness to foreign investment; an enthusiasm for innovation; an ease of doing business; some of the best universities and researchers you can find anywhere; an exceptional national talent for creativity and an indomitable spirit.
It is our fundamental strengths that really determine a country’s success and that is why Britain’s economy will always be strong.
There are other reasons why our future should give us confidence. We will always be a champion of economic openness; we will always be a country whose pitch to the world is high standards at home.
Britain has been a strong country since it joined the EU. The legal system is good, but has its shortcomings. All justice secretaries know about that. The openness for foreign investment has been admirable. But isolating Britain from the single market will deteriorate the framework for investors. Innovation has been great, but very dependent on EU citizens participating in it. The ease of doing business will in the future end in the uneasy conditions at the British borders. The best universities and the national talents may suffer deeply if Britain becomes a little Englander island again, the attraction of the UK already suffered from growing xenophobic attitudes deterring talents who can find a better climate elsewhere.
The British economy has not always been strong, it was strong as a part of the EU, now it is jumping into unknown waters. I have no doubt that a good spirit of enterprise may help the British economy to survive, but it will be much more difficult than inside the EU. The UK has contributed to make the EU more free market and globally oriented. We in Germany will feel the gap when Britain has left. But in a world where Trump and Putin embark on more protectionism, free trade may need a strong support even inside the EU. Britain alone will not stem that tide.
When we differ from the EU in our regulatory choices, it won’t be to try and attain an unfair competitive advantage, it will be because we want rules that are right for Britain’s particular situation.
Theresa May makes clear that ideas of some Brexieers, to transform Britain into a kind of Singapore at the Thames, or into some Cayman island financial paradise, are far too risky. This would have a social cost inside Britain and a political cost outside the UK that could become unbearable. The WTO rules apply when the EU believes Britain is seeking unfair competitive advantage, and sanctions like punitive custom duties will apply then. So it should be self-understanding that whenever the UK believes it should have different rules it is legitimate to have them – and it is up to the EU to see if they are damaging and should be answered by EU measures.
The best way for us both to succeed is to fulfil the potential of the partnership I have set out today.
For we should be in no doubt, that if our collective endeavours in these negotiations were to prove insufficient to reach an agreement, it would be a failure in the eyes of history and a damaging blow to the future of our continent.
Indeed, I believe the difference between where we would all be if we fail – and where we could be if we can achieve the kind of new partnership I have set out today – to be so great that it is beholden on all of us involved to demonstrate the leadership and flexibility needed to ensure that we succeed.
Failing in the negotiations would first of all let Britain fall off the cliff. Europe cannot be content with that but it will go on, for Britain it would be catastrophic. The blow came with the referendum made by David Cameron to save the unity of his political party, it came with right wing Brexiteer jingoists capturing the result of the referendum for their purposes. To avoid it, the Tories may have to split. But this may not happen without Britain having a proportional vote for the House of Commons because a split Tory party would be finished under the first-past-the-post system.
Yes, the negotiations to get there will be difficult. But if we approach them in the right way – respectful of the challenges for both sides and pragmatic about resolving them – we can find a way forward that makes a success of this for all of our peoples.
I recognise that this is not something that you – our European partners – wanted to do. It is a distraction from what you want to get on with. But we have to get this right.
And we both want to get this done as swiftly as possible.
It is good that the Prime Minister has set a moderate and respectful tone, but the negotiations will be decided on real policy – and here the speech in Florence keeps the contradictions of the existing British policy. Brexit is a distraction for the EU, but more: it is too complex even for the British government itself. Theresa May will need much more flexibility and fantasy to get this right.
So it is up to leaders to set the tone.
And the tone I want to set is one of partnership and friendship.
A tone of trust, the cornerstone of any relationship.
To set the tone in a friendly mode is very good. This is not just for the leaders. Theresa May is wrong to believe that she as the good girl can win the leaders with sirens‘ songs, while the bad guys negotiate. With Boris Johnson sitting in the first row of the audience in Florence this tone lacks credibility.
A tone of trust is indeed crucial. The British Brexiteers destroyed trust in an inedited way by their campaign of lies and slender, as long as they sit in government it will not be easy to re-establish trust. The behaviour of the British government towards the EU after the referendum, the incidents against EU-citizens, all of this did not help to build up the necessary trust. The speech in Florence must be greeted, but with a lot of reserves. The Prime minister is in office but not in power – said somebody in the UK. And the muppet show around her did not give any indication why they should deserve any trust.
For if we get the spirit of this negotiation right; if we get the spirit of this partnership right, then at the end of this process we will find that we are able to resolve the issues where we disagree respectfully and quickly.
I warned at the very beginning of the process that any playing with people as hostages for economic concessions would backfire and poison the climate of the negotiations. This has happened – and Theresa May’s words about how welcome EU citizens would be until Britain is definitely leaving, were not comforting me. Sorry to mention Boris again – but it seems that he and the other right extremists are setting the spirit much more than the Prime Minister.
And if we can do that, then when this chapter of our European history is written, it will be remembered not for the differences we faced but for the vision we showed; not for the challenges we endured but for the creativity we used to overcome them; not for a relationship that ended but a new partnership that began.
A partnership of interests, a partnership of values; a partnership of ambition for a shared future: the UK and the EU side by side delivering prosperity and opportunity for all our people.
This is the future within our grasp – so, together, let us seize it.
The end of the speech is wonderful. From relationship to partnership. Sounds great. But the opposite is the right grammar: it is going from a close partnership in the EU to an uncertain relationship outside. We should try to make the best out of it – but we are starting from a very bad situation.