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5 January 2017

No, Theresa May’s Brexit objectives are crystal clear

Far from being inscrutable, the Prime Minister's destination has been set out in detail. 

By Stephen Bush

Theresa May will outline her thoughts on what Brexit means in greater detail this month, and some of the details are in this morning’s Telegraph“May sets out vision for Brexit” is their splash.

“At last!” will be the cry from some quarters: some detail on what May’s plans are beyond banal soundbites like “Brexit means Brexit” and “red, white and blue Brexit”.

On this one, however, I think the Prime Minister’s getting an rap for inscrutability she doesn’t quite deserve. As I’ve written before, we were told what it is that the government’s Brexit red lines were in May’s first speech at Tory conference: for Britain to have control over its own borders and to no longer be subject to the judgements of the European Court of Justice.

We’ve also been given a fairly big steer based on what ministers haven’t ruled out: that is, continuing to pay money to the European Union after we’ve left. Or, to translate it into Vote Leave speak: we will be able to prevent 75 million Turks from moving to the UK but we won’t have £350m to give to the NHS every week. In fact, for the first time, we may well be handing £350m to the European Union, as we will likely continue to pay without receiving money back in kind.  

It’s crystal clear what not being subject to the free movement of people and leaving the ECJ means: a hard Brexit, with no continuing membership of the single market.

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And it’s equally clear that the government’s hope is that it can use its status as a major contributor to the EU budget to buy a measure of the access it needs in order to keep the banks sweet and Nissan chugging out cars in Sunderland. 

Of course, it’s not at all clear that this is a deal that will work for the EU27 or indeed for the best interests of the UK. But it’s hard to truthfully argue that we don’t have a pretty good idea what it is that the government wants out of Brexit: it’s just that we don’t like it.