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Britain Brexit Source: Kirsty Wigglesworth

IT’S A DAY that has been coming for months.

This morning, UK Prime Minister Theresa May finally outlined just exactly how she plans to extract the UK from the EU following last year’s Brexit referendum. Sort of. Kinda.

That May was seeking a so-called ‘hard’ Brexit – ie one which would see Britain exit the single market amongst other things – was no secret. But just how hard a hard Brexit are we talking? And when will it happen?

Here’s how it all went down.

Theresa May has been effectively avoiding questions as to just what kind of Brexit her government favours.

A strong train of thought is that the main reason for this is that the UK government has been floundering with indecision in the face of an economic catastrophe they never believed could actually happen.

But, as Theresa is so fond of telling us, will Brexit really mean Brexit?

Here we go

“The people voted for a new path. It is up to this government to deliver it,” says May.

No specifics as yet. May wants Britain to be a “truly global country” and to be “a friend to all countries”.

“The British people voted for change,” she says. “We are a European country, but we are also a country that has always looked beyond our borders towards the wider world.”

23 June was not the moment that Britain chose to step back from the world. It was the moment we chose to become a truly global Britain.

“It remains overwhelmingly in Britain’s interests for the EU to succeed,” says May.

Now the Prime Minister is setting out Britain’s reasons for leaving the EU.

“Unlike other EU nations we have no written constitution,” she says.

She admits that it’s true Britain has “often looked like an awkward member state” of the EU.

“I believe there is a lesson from Brexit, not just for us but for Europe also.”

There are different ways of dealing with different interests.

Our vote to leave the EU was no rejection of the values that we share or do harm to the EU itself.

We do not want to turn back the clock to times when Europe was less peaceful.

“We will continue to be friends and partners. You will still be welcome in this country,” May adds.

“We are leaving the European Union. We are not leaving Europe.”

“We do not seek to be an associated member of the European Union. Not a member of bits of the European Union. We are leaving the EU.”

Now we’re getting down to the nuts and bolts. May is about to outline her 12-point plan for Brexit.

Objective One – “We will provide certainty wherever we can. This will compromises on both sides, and not everyone will know everything at all times,” says May.

“I can confirm that the government will put the final deal to a vote before both houses of Parliament.”

Objective Two – Britain will be taking charge of its own laws.

A mention for Northern Ireland’s currently fraught political situation:

“I hope the spirit of unity will apply in Northern Ireland and the main parties there will form a government as soon as possible,” says Theresa May.

“Nobody wants to return to the borders of the past,” the prime minister says of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Objective Three – A fairer Britain. This means immigration.

“We will continue to attract the brightest and the best to work and study in Britain,” says May.

But that must be done properly so our immigration controls serve the national interest.

Now, what does that mean?

“In the last decade we’ve seen record levels of net immigration. This has put a downward pressure on working class people,” says May.

You cannot control immigration from Europe while a member of the EU.

Now we’re talking Free Trade.

“We will pursue a bold and ambitious free trade agreement with the European Union,” says May.

But I want to be clear. That does not mean membership of the free market.

So, ‘hard’ Brexit it is.

Leaving the single market will mean no longer having to make “vast contributions” to the EU’s budget says Theresa May.

“It is time for Britain to rediscover its role as a great global trading nation,” says May.

There is little indication of how this is to be achieved mind you. So far seems pretty aspirational.

“President-Elect Trump says Britain is not at the back of the queue when it comes to trade, rather it is at the front of the line,” she says.

That may be the first mention of the soon-to-be inaugurated US president.

“We will welcome agreement to continue to collaborate with our European partners on major science and technology initiatives.”

Now we’re onto defence.

“With threats to common security becoming more serious, we need to work together more, not less,” says May.

I am proud of the role Britain has played in promoting Europe’s security.

“We do not seek some kind of unlimited transitional status.”

Well, we’re glad that’s cleared up so. For a while there it looked like you did Theresa.

So, it is to be a ‘hard Brexit’, albeit with a free trade agreement. That sounds a bit like Britain having its cake and eating it?

“This is a fair and comprehensive plan,” says the Prime Minister.

Those who urge us to reveal more, such as the blow by blow of our negotiation strategy, will not be acting in the national interest.

So, don’t be asking questions basically, we know what we’re doing, nothing to see here.

Britain Brexit Source: Kirsty Wigglesworth

So, the 12 points of Brexit, in case you missed them:

  1. The UK will provide certainty
  2. All UK laws to be made in the UK
  3. Strengthening the union
  4. Maintaining the common travel area with Ireland
  5. Controlling immigration
  6. Guaranteeing the rights of British citizens both at home and abroad
  7. Protecting workers rights
  8. A free trade agreement with the EU
  9. Britain to re-become a great global trading nation
  10. Collaboration with EU on science, research and technology
  11. Work closely with the EU on defence and security
  12. A phased process of implementation

Theresa May does not want a “punitive Brexit deal” for Britain.

That would not be the act of a friend. Britain could not and would not accept such a deal.

So, the speech has ended, we have our 12 points for Brexit, pretty much no details of how they’ll be achieved, and now it’s time for a Q&A.

Will EU nationals be treated the exact same way as non-EU nationals post-Brexit asks a London Times journalist?

“We do recognise the importance of immigration, we recognise the contribution of those who have come here and who are still her, but our immigration policy will follow the plan which I have set out,” is the reply.

So, maybe, is the answer.

If Parliament rejects the deal, will Britain still be in the EU?

“Today is about coming together and analysing the opportunities available to us across the world, and then bringing them home,” is May’s answer.

The British Parliament has made it very clear it wants us to get on with it, and that is what we are doing.

Brexit Source: Kirsty Wigglesworth

A Spanish journalist, from El Pais, asks if migration is completely off the table.

“This is not about a confrontation,” is May’s reply. “This is about what is right for the EU, I mean the UK.”

That’s quite the Freudian slip, Theresa.

I want to work out what is to our mutual benefit. Thank you.

And with that, like Keyser Soze, Theresa May is gone.

So, what have we learned? Well:

  • It is to be a hard Brexit
  • Significantly, Parliament will get to vote on whatever deal is agreed
  • Britain is to exit the common market
  • The common travel area with Ireland will be maintained
  • And erm, as far as how things are to be specifically achieved, there was next to nothing. It was a very aspirational speech indeed

The Irish Government has issued a statement in the wake of May’s speech:

“The Government has noted the contents of Prime Minister May’s speech today and welcomes the fact that it provides greater clarity on the proposed approach of the British Government to the Brexit negotiation process,” it reads.

For Ireland, the priorities for the negotiation process that lies ahead are unchanged:  our economic and trading arrangements, the Northern Ireland Peace Process including border issues, the common travel area, and the future of the European Union.

In her speech, Prime Minister May highlighted the specific and historic relationship between Britain and Ireland.   In this context, she made clear that her priorities include maintaining the common travel area and avoiding a return to a hard border with Northern Ireland, both of which are welcome.

That statement continues:

The Government notes that the British approach is now firmly that of a country which will have left the EU but which seeks to negotiate a new, close relationship with it.   While this will inevitably be seen by many as a “hard exit”, the analysis across Government has covered all possible models for the future UK relationship with the EU. 

So… is it a hard exit or isn’t it? Does anyone know?

The Government’s preparation (for Brexit) is extensive.  Important organisational changes have been implemented in Government Departments and Agencies, with additional resources provided in key areas.  Preparation to date includes the contingency work done before the UK referendum, intensified analysis and scenario planning carried out across all key sectors since, and extensive stakeholder consultation and engagement including through the all-island Civic Dialogue process.

So, we have it all in hand. Nothing to worry about.

BREXIT 063 Source: Sam Boal

And that, for now, is your lot. Not a huge amount has been revealed, but it should relieve some of the pressure on the UK PM. For a few days at least.

For now, we have Theresa’s 12 points of Brexit to pick over.

Thanks for being with us, we’ll be back later with analysis of the British Prime Minister’s speech. Bye.

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