She wants a two(ish)-year “implementation period”
The Prime Minister had already said she wanted some kind of transitional arrangement to continue after the current date when Britain is set to leave the EU – 29 March 2019.
But this is the first time she has mentioned a specific timetable.
Mrs May says she wants an implementation period of “around two years” in which EU rules and regulations will still apply and people from the EU will be able to live and work freely in the UK, albeit under a new registration scheme.
Another important difference has emerged. Previous talk about a transitional agreement hinged on Britain reaching a full deal about “our future partnership” before March 2019.
There would then be “a phased process implementation” of the agreement.
Today’s speech suggests this timetable has slipped: the Prime Minister is no longer confident about reaching an agreement by 2019 and needs more time to negotiate.
The “Norway option” appears to be off the table
Mrs May appeared to rule out retaining membership of the European Economic Area (EEA), a kind of halfway-house position that Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland have opted for.
EEA membership would see Britain retain full access to the Single Market, but it would be forced to allow the free movement of EU citizens into the country, make substantial payments to the EU and accept its rules without being able to vote on them.
The Prime Minister said: “Such a loss of democratic control could not work for the British people. I fear it would inevitably lead to friction and then a damaging re-opening of the nature of our relationship in the near future.”
This aspect of the speech pleased Tory Brexiteers like Boris Johnson – who tweeted enthusiastically:
But the pound fell immediately against the euro, which analysts interpreted as a sign of disappointment from markets looking for reassurance about future access to the Single Market.
(We’ve FactChecked some of the ways the referendum result has already affected the British economy here.)
Mrs May also said she did not want the “harder” option of a trade deal like the one that has just been negotiated with Canada.
She thinks that Britain – the EU’s biggest trading partner, and one with an identical regulatory framework – can extract a much better deal from Brussels.
Essentially, this sounds like Britain is still pursuing the dream of a bespoke agreement of unprecedented generosity. It’s worth remembering that the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier has publicly ruled this out.
We still don’t know how much the “divorce settlement” will be
Mrs May said Britain will continue to pay contributions to the EU budget that have already been agreed. This works out at about £18bn.
Some commentators see this as a significant concession, given that UK government lawyers had reportedly suggested that Britain could leave without paying anything.
She did not set out her position on payments beyond the simple membership fee.
We’ve looked at this before and we think EU negotiators could ask for money to cover spending commitments cashed in after 2021, pensions for retired officials and more.
It’s not clear how Britain will approach these issues, or what the final divorce bill will be.