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8 things we learned from Theresa May’s Brexit speech

And what it means for Ireland.

Brexit Source: Kirsty Wigglesworth

THERESA MAY HAS spoken.

During the British Prime Minister’s much anticipated speech at lunchtime today, she acknowledged that the United Kingdom cannot remain in the single market (but wants access to it); does not want a deal already offered to other countries (but wants the best deal possible); and wants the EU and its members to prosper.

In her plan for negotiating deals once the UK leaves the EU, she laid out her 12-point plan about what she hoped to achieve during negotiations – some of which posed more questions than it answered.

So here’s a list of the most important things we learned from her speech this afternoon, and what it means for Ireland.

1. Common Travel Area

Brexit Source: Steve Parsons

One of the strongest statements May made today – and not just from an Irish point of view – was when she outlined the importance of maintaining the Common Travel Area between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

It was fourth on her 12-point to do list – right after British law and maintaining relations with Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales – and it made the cut as she closed her speech too:

[The Common Travel Area] was formed before either of our two countries were members of the European Union. And the family ties and bonds of affection that unite our two countries mean that there will always be a special relationship between us.

Maintaining a ‘soft’ border should not be too difficult to negotiate for, as both Switzerland and Norway enjoy a ‘soft’ border with its EU neighbours.

However, what is more problematic is that May only pledged to find a solution that “protected the integrity of the United Kingdom’s immigration system”. So there may not be a lot of room for manoeuvre there.

2. Trade agreement

Brexit Source: PA Wire/PA Images

Of all the issues surrounding a Brexit, trade tariffs is the one that could hurt the British government the most. It would mean that goods, services and capital will be taxed at a higher rate than when they were within the EU (presumably).

The PM wants a TTIP-type trade agreement to allow for the “maximum freedom to trade with European markets and let European markets do the same here”.

Although her entire speech was reasonable and conciliatory, May gently warned the EU that if it didn’t cut them a good deal on trade, it would affect businesses, economies and jobs in the remaining 27 countries, and that they’d get aggressive in competing for trade.

3. Limiting and protecting Europeans

Since David Cameron’s resignation, there has been much speculation about May’s personal stance on Brexit. Although she officially stood behind her boss in the referendum campaign, it’s thought that she agrees that there should be more limitations on immigration.

In the speech today, May gave a bit more insight into how she feels about the issue, saying, “While controlled immigration can bring great benefits – filling skills shortages, delivering public services, making British businesses the world-beaters they often are – when the numbers get too high, public support for the system falters.”

May also pledged to guarantee the rights of British citizens already in EU countries and EU citizens already in Britain as a kind of halfway meeting ahead of negotiations with the EU.

4. The other Union

Sturgeon announces funding to tackle poverty Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Source: Jamie Simpson/Herald & Times

In the wake of Brexit, people found it difficult to justify the reasons for a United Kingdom (remember that mantra, ‘Let’s take back control’).

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon promised that there would be a second Scottish independence referendum – based on their vote to remain in the EU.

With recent elections called in Northern Ireland, May presented a united front today when she said that the UK’s devolved administrations can submit their requests for the Brexit negotiations.

“We have already received a paper from the Scottish government, and look forward to receiving a paper from the Welsh government shortly. Both papers will be considered as part of this important process.

“We won’t agree on everything, but I look forward to working with the administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to deliver a Brexit that works for the whole of the United Kingdom.”

5. Legal 

Another great pillar of the Brexit vote was the people’s wish for sovereignty over their own laws. May has assuaged concerns that there would be a repeal of certain EU laws by clarifying that the same laws would be passed over into British law.

“And it is why, as we repeal the European Communities Act, we will convert the acquis – the body of existing EU law – into British law.

This will give the country maximum certainty as we leave the EU. The same rules and laws will apply on the day after Brexit as they did before.

“And it will be for the British Parliament to decide on any changes to that law after full scrutiny and proper Parliamentary debate.”

6. Britain offer security as a pay off

Britain Queen's Speech Source: AP/Press Association Images

In an effort to show the reward for keeping Britain onside, May cited British secret service MI6, Britain’s nuclear powers, and anti-terrorism efforts.

Her offer of cross-border crime protection was particularly significant, as this is an issue that Britain has historically held back on.

… Our intelligence capabilities – unique in Europe – have already saved countless lives in very many terrorist plots that have been thwarted in countries across our continent.

“After Brexit, Britain wants to be a good friend and neighbour in every way, and that includes defending the safety and security of all of our citizens.”

7. Timeline?

Whitechapel Bell Foundry

May’s speech was more aspirational than concrete – setting the tone for negotiations rather than illuminating how they will go about it.

She did say, however, that there was to be no ‘transitional status’ while negotiations are underway which would lead the UK to be “stuck forever in some kind of permanent political purgatory”.

She also added that ”it is not my job to fill column inches with daily updates”, suggesting that even if she did have a plan on this, she won’t be sharing it with the public or media.

“This is a fair and comprehensive plan.

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.

8. So should Ireland be worried? Are they?

In the Dáil earlier today, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin made his concerns over the lack of detail and the lack of provisions for the Irish people known.

Enda Kenny tried to assure Martin, telling him that this was only the start of the process, and that “we now have further clarification” of what kind of deal Britain wants from the EU.

Independent Galway TD Michael Fitzmaurice said that the onus was now Europe to ensure that Ireland is protected from a ‘hard’ Brexit.

Fianna Fáil TD Dara O’Brien was a bit more dismissive of the speech, saying that although the tone was soft, the message was tough. He told Drivetime this evening that “it’s effectively a total divorce, asking for a border of sorts to come into play in the north”.

He called once more for a Brexit minister here and asked the government to “start being selfish about Ireland”.

As it happened: Theresa May has outlined her plans for Brexit

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