New Times,
New Thinking.

  1. Election 2024
  2. Brexit
25 September 2017

Something was missing from Theresa May’s Brexit speech

The Prime Minister's Florence speech had nothing to say on an issue that could wreck the Brexit talks, her premiership, or both.

By Stephen Bush

Theresa May’s big speech in Florence last week was intended to do two things: to quell the growing divisions in Conservative ranks over Brexit and to restart the stalled talks with the European Union.

As far as the first objective goes, even a generous marker would struggle to give the speech a passing grade. What about the second? To move on to the “future relationship” phase of the talks, there must first be sufficient progress on three areas: the status of the three million citizens from the EU27 living in the United Kingdom, the matter of the United Kingdom’s existing financial liabilities to the rest of the bloc, and the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

On financial liabilities, May conceded that the United Kingdom will have to settle its accounts. As far as the rights of citizens go, the rhetoric was good but was undercut by the actual actions being taken by the Home Office right now. So, progress, at least.

What about the Irish border? Here, the speech had nothing at all to say. The difficulty is that for all the British government likes to talk up the potential of “innovation” and “creativity”, if you have a different customs regime – which under the government’s plans, Britain will have when we leave the European Union – then you have to have customs checks at your border.

That means that there will have to be a hard border somewhere on the island of Ireland. Either that will mean cameras and checks on the land border between the Republic and Northern Ireland, or customs checks at ports on goods and some kind of special status for Northern Ireland.

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via saturdayread.substack.com The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via morningcall.substack.com
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how Progressive Media Investments may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
THANK YOU

The latter approach makes sense for the economies of both Northern Ireland and the Republic, but effectively creates a united Ireland by the back door, something that is unacceptable for many unionists, most importantly the ten unionist MPs propping up the Conservative majority.

Which reflects on the real reason why Theresa May had nothing to say on the question of the Irish border: because there are no answers that won’t be economically damaging, politically destabilising or imperil her own position in parliament. 

Content from our partners
The future of private credit
Peatlands are nature's unsung climate warriors
How the apprenticeship levy helps small businesses to transform their workforce