Theresa May wanted to provide clarity with her Manor House speech - but her Brexit plan is opaque
By Daniel J. McLaughlin
"Let me be clear." When politicians presupposition their argument with these four words, it is usually a cue that signals we will be none the wiser by the end of it.
In last week's Prime Minister's Questions, Theresa May feigned an "all-will-be-revealed" tone when Jeremy Corbyn asked her about a Brexit speech she was poised to deliver. When she eventually got round to it on Friday, her Manor House speech was "high on aspirations but short on workable solutions", according to a leaked EU document.
The word "clear" appeared 15 times in Theresa May's Manor House speech. However, the prime minister's Brexit plan sounded opaque.
The Guardian's John Crace argues that her speech was never intended to provide clarity on the Brexit negotiations. She was playing to Westminster, not Brussels - and in particular, to the Tories. "It had been to buy herself some more time with sufficient vagueness to initiate a temporary ceasefire to prevent the Conservative party from tearing itself to pieces for a couple of weeks," Crace writes.
Trying to provide clarity or "sufficient vagueness", Mrs May outlined her five tests for Brexit:
- Respect the referendum result ("it was a vote to take control of our borders, laws and money")
- The new agreement must endure so Britain and the EU can build a better future
- It must protect people's jobs and security
- It must be consistent with the country Britain wants to be: "a modern, open, outward-looking, tolerant, European democracy"
- It must strengthen our union of nations and our union of people
While they are all admirable aims, and something both the UK and the EU ought to pursue, they are short in detail. At this point of the negotiations, the prime minister is listing tests for the Brexit negotiations that should have been announced this time last year, when she hastily triggered Article 50.
The fifth test is a particularly interesting one. As well as trying to unite her party, the prime minister needs to unite the nation - and she missed her chance to do that.
She said: "We must bring our country back together, taking into account the views of everyone who cares about this issue, from both sides of the debate."
Mrs May cannot appeal to "bring our country back together" when she repeatedly divides it, the New Statesman's George Eaton argues. Over the course of her 20-month premiership, she has repeatedly failed to forge unity. In the dying days of David Cameron's premiership, as home secretary, Mrs May unilaterally blocked a guarantee of EU citizens' rights. She has also adopted one of the hardest Brexit models available by choosing to withdraw from the single market, the customs union, and end the European Court of Justice's jurisdiction).
Eaton argues: "Even more damningly, she made little attempt to reassure Remain MPs and voters that their views would not be disregarded in Brexitannia. She sought to block Britain's sovereign parliament from voting on whether to trigger Article 50 and to deny MPs a "meaningful vote" on the final deal."
Theresa May promised to be clear with her Manor House speech, but the road to Brexit remains as foggy as ever. If the prime minister continues to navigate the route this way, Britain could end up driving off the cliff-edge.