The only good part of Theresa May’s speech was also the scariest

The Prime Minister’s olive branch to EU citizens is a sign of just how plausible a no deal exit now is. 

NS

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Amid the general incoherence of Theresa May’s speech, there was one very good thing in it: the Prime Minister’s pledge to guarantee the rights of the three million European citizens living in the United Kingdom even in the event that the UK leaves the European Union without a deal.

For most people – including essentially every other Conservative MP – the pledge has come far too late. Any of the other contenders for the Tory party leadership would have announced it on day one of their premierships and it unites most Conservatives, Remain or Leave, in a belief that the issue merely poisoned relations with the other 26 member states of the European Union and upset voters in the United Kingdom to no good end. (And they’re right: you cannot point to a concrete achievement or concession the United Kingdom won by not making an immediate guarantee on citizens’ rights.)

But May’s belated conversion on the issue should worry us, because it’s a sign of just how seriously the government now takes the prospect of no deal. Also of note: the phrase “no deal is better than a bad deal”, which essentially vanished from May’s rhetorical arsenal after the loss of her parliamentary majority in June 2017, is back. Make no mistake: the chances of us leaving without a deal are very high indeed.

Stephen Bush is political editor of the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.