Glenis Willmott: The vacuum beneath Theresa May’s Brexit soundbites



Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, met Theresa May in Downing Street yesterday to discuss Brexit.

Here are the five key questions he will have wanted answered:

  1. When will the Government start talking to its EU partners about Brexit? All we know so far is that the prime minister has said it will not happen this year. But will it be early next year, the middle of the year or even later? Does the Government have any indication of when it would wish to trigger Article 50? As Mr Tusk reiterated yesterday, the EU needs formal notification of Article 50 in order to start negotiations.
  1. What does Britain want from Brexit? Theresa May has said she will not give a “running commentary on negotiations”. All fair and well, were in not for the fact we have not yet had any official commentary, and we’re now two-and-a-half months on from the vote. We still have no concrete options on the table, no plans have been laid out, and the Government has not made any demands. It’s not a “running commentary” that our EU partners are looking for – they just want something, anything, to indicate the British government has some kind of clue about what it wants
  1. Who speaks for the Government? Theresa May says Brexit means Brexit. Which means leaving the single market according to David Davis; bringing in a points based immigration system according to Boris Johnson; and a free trade agreement without free movement according to Liam Fox – yet Davis’s idea is a “not Government policy”, merely “his opinion”; Johnson’s plans have been rebuffed; and Number 10 has been forced to “clarify” Fox’s comments. The Brexit secretary, international trade secretary and foreign secretary all seem to be at odds with the prime minister.
  1. What is Britain willing to give up? EU partners simply will not agree to giving Britain all the economic benefits but none of the costs. Will the UK continue to pay into the EU budget and accept freedom of movement, which it must do in order to remain in the single market? Given the claims of Leave campaigners during the referendum, will this be acceptable?
  1. Will Britain still participate in EU programmes ‎that keep British and EU citizens safe? As a former home secretary, Theresa May knows better than anyone in the UK government the value of Europe-wide cooperation on terrorism, crime and migration. Will Britain seek to maintain the European Arrest Warrant and the sharing of intelligence to combat terrorism and extremism?

From companies uncertain about investing in the UK, to working people fearful of losing their jobs and rights, to our international allies worried about Britain’s future role in the world, everybody is looking for answers. But, given the Government’s chaotic approach to the greatest political challenge of a generation, I suspect Donald Tusk left Downing Street yesterday none the wiser.

The lack of plan behind the “Brexit means Brexit” soundbite is starting to be exposed.

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