If you're unsure what Theresa May actually meant in that Brexit speech, I've deconstructed it line by line

Our Chief Political Commentator provides a translation of the Prime Minister’s Lancaster House speech

John Rentoul
Tuesday 17 January 2017 14:47 GMT
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Theresa May calls Brexit a 'great moment of national change'

What she said: June the 23rd was not the moment Britain chose to step back from the world. It was the moment we chose to build a truly Global Britain. I know that this – and the other reasons Britain took such a decision – is not always well understood among our friends and allies in Europe.

What she meant: They think we have taken leave of our senses.

I know many fear that this might herald the beginning of a greater unravelling of the EU. But let me be clear: I do not want that to happen.

But I would quite understand if it did. They should reflect on why we are leaving and learn the lesson.

While I know Britain might at times have been seen as an awkward member state, the European Union has struggled to deal with the diversity of its member countries and their interests. It bends towards uniformity, not flexibility.

They have always thought we don't understand them, but we have always failed to understand them because they are wrong.

David Cameron’s negotiation was a valiant final attempt to make it work for Britain.

He foolishly became over-committed to EU membership and lost touch with reality.

There are two ways of dealing with different interests. You can respond by trying to hold things together by force, tightening a vice-like grip that ends up crushing into tiny pieces the very things you want to protect. Or you can respect difference, cherish it even, and reform the EU.

This is all your fault, you continental authoritarians. For goodness’ sake, why can’t you be more like the English and learn to muddle along?

We are leaving the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe.

We are in but also out. Conservative but also Labour. Nationalist but also internationalist. Little Britain but also global Britain.

Not partial membership of the European Union, associate membership of the European Union, or anything that leaves us half-in, half-out.

No, we will be wholly in and wholly out.

As we negotiate that partnership, we will be driven by some simple principles.

I’ve been talking for 10 minutes and not said anything yet. Now pay attention.

We will provide as much certainty and clarity as we can at every stage.

Which is hardly any certainty at all. I am very clear about that. It’s not really up to me, is it? I can ask for the Moon but if the other EU leaders won’t give it to me, what can I do?

I can confirm today that the Government will put the final deal that is agreed between the UK and the EU to a vote in both Houses of Parliament, before it comes into force.

If they vote no, we get no deal. It’s a very popular TV programme. Parliament can take the deal, which won’t be very good although it will be better than nothing, or it can take nothing.

I have also been determined from the start that the devolved administrations should be fully engaged in this process.

They can submit papers and come to meetings.

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.

I will ignore anything they say that I don’t agree with.

Maintaining that Common Travel Area with the Republic of Ireland will be an important priority for the UK in the talks ahead.

Well, priority means the first thing. You can’t really have more than one. So not very important at all.

The family ties and bonds of affection that unite our two countries [the UK and the Republic of Ireland] mean that there will always be a special relationship between us.

It means as much to the British Government as the special relationship with Britain means to the US government.

Theresa May: 'I want be clear, what I am proposing cannot mean access to the single market'

As Home Secretary for six years, I know that you cannot control immigration overall when there is free movement to Britain from Europe.

So when I was Home Secretary I didn’t really try to reduce immigration from outside the EU either. It was always higher than EU net immigration, you know.

We want to guarantee the rights of EU citizens who are already living in Britain, and the rights of British nationals in other member states, as early as we can. I have told other EU leaders that we could give people the certainty they want straight away, and reach such a deal now. Many of them favour such an agreement – one or two others do not.

Looking at you, Angela and Francois. Well, more like 20 than one or two.

We will make sure legal protection for workers keeps pace with the changing labour market – and that the voices of workers are heard by the boards of publicly listed companies for the first time.

I’m not going to put workers on the board as originally promised. The board might have to read a trade-union newsletter or something.

But I want to be clear.

Just for once, I mean I want to be clear.

What I am proposing cannot mean membership of the single market.

Go on then. There, I’ve said it. It’s what everyone has known ever since I became Prime Minister, but I believe in managing headlines. And the pound isn’t even dropping because my no-spin spin-doctors briefed at the weekend that there might be a “market correction” after my speech, so the pound dropped yesterday instead.

We want to get out into the wider world, to trade and do business all around the globe.

In two years’ time Liam Fox will be allowed to go to the corner shop on his own.

I want Britain to be able to negotiate its own trade agreements. But I also want tariff-free trade with Europe and cross-border trade there to be as frictionless as possible. That means I do not want Britain to be part of the Common Commercial Policy and I do not want us to be bound by the Common External Tariff.

Complicated stuff this. Lots of specialist terminology. If I blind people with jargon it is possible that they won’t notice when I don’t get what I want in the negotiations.

Whether that means we must reach a completely new customs agreement, become an associate member of the Customs Union in some way, or remain a signatory to some elements of it, I hold no preconceived position. I have an open mind on how we do it. It is not the means that matter, but the ends.

But also, just to be on the safe side, I won’t say what I want. Open mind. Customs union, no customs union. You decide.

Theresa May refuses to say what will happen if Parliament rejects her Brexit deal

I do not mean that we will seek some form of unlimited transitional status, in which we find ourselves stuck forever in some kind of permanent political purgatory.

Let’s call it limbo instead, shall we?

For each issue, the time we need to phase-in the new arrangements may differ. Some might be introduced very quickly, some might take longer.

A bit of this, a bit of that. We might do it straight away, or a bit later, sometime, never. Who knows, frankly?

This is the framework of a deal that will herald a new partnership between the UK and the EU. It is a comprehensive and carefully considered plan.

We are making it up as we go along.

This is not a game or a time for opposition for opposition’s sake … It is not my job to fill column inches with daily updates.

That’s your job. Make up what you like. I shall deny everything.

When the EU’s leaders say they believe the four freedoms of the single market are indivisible, we respect that position.

They are out of their minds. They’ll come round in the end.

Trade is not a zero-sum game: more of it makes us all more prosperous.

My fellow European leaders, don’t punish us, please.

I know there are some voices calling for a punitive deal that punishes Britain and discourages other countries from taking the same path.

Pretty please.

While I am confident that this scenario need never arise – while I am sure a positive agreement can be reached – I am equally clear that no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain.

Look, I’ve asked nicely. If that doesn’t work, we’ll fight back.

If we were excluded from accessing the single market – we would be free to change the basis of Britain’s economic model.

Do you feel lucky, punks? If you hurt us, we’ll undercut you lot on taxes. Do you really want a giant tax haven on your doorstep?

I do not believe that the EU’s leaders will seriously tell German exporters, French farmers, Spanish fishermen, the young unemployed of the Eurozone, and millions of others, that they want to make them poorer, just to punish Britain.

Most of your economies are in trouble and we can make them worse if you don’t co-operate.

And another thing that’s important. The essential ingredient of our success. The strength and support of 65 million people willing us to make it happen.

And another thing: I’m dead popular you know. I have the support of my people, Francois.

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