Theresa May: what she said about Article 50 – and what she really meant

Our chief political commentator provides a translation of the Prime Minister's statement on her Article 50 letter

John Rentoul
Wednesday 29 March 2017 18:14 BST
Trigger happy: the PM trumpets Article 50, beginning the two-year process that leads us we know not exactly where
Trigger happy: the PM trumpets Article 50, beginning the two-year process that leads us we know not exactly where (PA)

The Prime Minister today delivered a speech to Parliament on the triggering of Article 50, beginning the official process of withdrawing from the European. Here are the key points decoded.

To read Theresa May's full Brexit and Article 50 statement, click here.

What she said: Today the Government acts on the democratic will of the British people. And it acts, too, on the clear and convincing position of this House.

What she meant: You went to court to make me come to the House of Commons and I won by an even bigger margin.

What she said: This is an historic moment from which there can be no turning back.

What she meant: You turn if you want to, the lady’s not for turning. Remind you of anyone?

What she said: At moments like these – great turning points in our national story – the choices we make define the character of our nation.

What she meant: It wasn’t the choice I made but I’m going to make the best of it.

What she said: I choose to believe in Britain and that our best days lie ahead.

What she meant: I am the Red Queen. I choose to believe all sorts of impossible things and anyone who disagrees with me is a gloom-mongering cry-baby.

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What she said: Leaving the European Union presents us with a ... chance to step back and ask ourselves what kind of country we want to be.

What she meant: A chance to step back and ask ourselves, “What have we done?”

What she said: I want us to be a truly Global Britain.

What she meant: A country that can raise its productivity in the manufacture of clichés.

What she said: Perhaps now more than ever, the world needs the liberal, democratic values of Europe – values that the United Kingdom shares.

What she meant: When I use the words liberal and democratic they mean what I want them to mean and they are nothing to do with the Liberal Democrats, who take a rather illiberal view of the democratic decision of the British people.

What she said: While we are leaving the institutions of the European Union, we are not leaving Europe.

What she meant: Cliché checklist: tick.

What she said: We will do all that we can to help the European Union prosper and succeed.

What she meant: Except stay in it.

What she said: Leaving the European Union will mean that our laws will be made in Westminster, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast.

What she meant: Our laws will be made in Westminster (except such powers as this House chooses to devolve to London and some other places).

What she said: We will negotiate as one United Kingdom, taking account of the specific interests of every nation and region of the UK.

What she meant: I will take account of all requests for gold-plated unicorns in the receptacles in No 10 provided for the purpose, which are labelled, “Take Account”.

What she said: We want to maintain the common travel area with the Republic of Ireland. There should be no return to the borders of the past.

What she meant: Who said I am nostalgic for the past? I want to bring in the borders of the future.

What she said: We will control immigration so that we continue to attract the brightest and the best to work or study in Britain, but manage the process properly so that our immigration system serves the national interest.

What she meant: Whoever was responsible for the way the Home Office managed our immigration system since 2010 is quite simply a disgrace.

What she said: We will ensure that workers’ rights are fully protected and maintained. Indeed, under my leadership, not only will the Government protect the rights of workers, we will build on them.

What she meant: Workers’ rights: tick. Correctly placed apostrophe: tick. Concrete block built on top of them: tick.

What she said: European leaders have said many times that we cannot “cherry pick” and remain members of the single market without accepting the four freedoms that are indivisible. We respect that position.

What she meant: We think that position is rubbish. If they stopped being so stubborn, I might have a chance of reversing this whole unfortunate business.

What she said: We hope to continue to collaborate with our European partners in the areas of science, education, research and technology.

What she meant: That Hadron Collider thing is in Switzerland, isn’t it?

What she said: It is our aim to deliver a smooth and orderly Brexit.

What she meant: Just as Tony Blair promised a stable and orderly transition to Gordon Brown. That didn’t end well.

What she said: We know that we will lose influence over the rules that affect the European economy.

What she meant: [Not to pause after the word “influence”.]

What she said: Europe has a responsibility to stand up for free trade in the interests of all our citizens.

What she meant: No mucking about. No small-minded attempt to punish us. Pull yourselves together.

What she said: Our vote to leave the EU was no rejection of the values that we share as fellow Europeans.

What she meant: It was a rejection of some of them.

What she said: Not everyone shared the same point of view, or voted in the same way.

What she meant: Everyone should have voted the same way – to stay. But I will get on with doing what I can to avoid making it worse than it needs be.

What she said: When I sit around the negotiating table in the months ahead, I will represent every person in the United Kingdom – young and old, rich and poor, city, town, country and all the villages and hamlets in between.

What she meant: Hamlets’ rights have not been taken seriously enough by the metropolitan elite since the enclosure movement.

What she said: These are the ambitions … that unite us, so that we are no longer defined by the vote we cast, but by our determination to make a success of the result.

What she meant: I was a Remainer but I don’t want to be defined by it, so if everyone could pipe down about it that would be great.

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