22 Sep 2017

May’s EU transition plan quite a pill for some voters to swallow

Theresa May has spelt out that Britain is formally requesting a status quo transition period of around two years and is willing to pay for that.

It will mean just about nothing will change in terms of relations with the EU until five years after the referendum. That’s quite a pill for some voters to swallow and in terms of allowing continuing freedom of movement it has proved quite a pill for Theresa May.

She tried to camouflage that in the speech by saying new EU citizens coming to stay in the UK would register during the transition period. That’s something that already happens in some EU countries. She’d love to have put in real controls but her officials and some members of the Cabinet told her that Europe wouldn’t wear it.

So Philip Hammond has got the promise of a status quo transition that he wanted (though Mrs May is saying it may not last two years for some areas if new joint legal apparatus can be worked out faster – it’s not clear yet whether the EU are up for that phasing or staggered approach). But Mrs May is letting it be known that she is not up for an end state that involves paying for access to part of the single market.

As for the money that Theresa May is willing to pay across for the transition,
EU officials think they are asking us to pay for the hotel room we have just checked out of and we’ve said we’ll only pay for continuing use of the pool and spa. From Downing Street’s perspective, we have started talking money, begun a conversation that was stymied until now. But the gap between the numbers is vast and the principles of what we are paying for not agreed.

There were olive branches in language to Europe (softening the “no deal is better than a bad deal” line and spelling out EU citizens’ rights would be enshrined in UK law which “could take account” of ECJ judgements).

Theresa May is still asking for an end relationship that is a hybrid of the existing models out there. Every time she says that so far the EU responds with a Thatcherite “no, no, no.” There is some hope amongst some officials that the EU simply doesn’t mean that though no one was spelling that out today.

The key thing to remember here is that after 15 months the government has struggled to define the transition it wants. That leaves the heavy lifting of negotiating the final deal still to be sorted, both internally in the Cabinet and then, if that can be done, with EU27. Even if it works, and it’s not clear that it will, this speech will have kicked the can down the road a bit.

The Mayor of Florence said it in flags as Theresa May turned up in town. We watched as extra EU standards were put out in the city centre today and, moments later, the mayor tweeted a picture of them.



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