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Theresa May's Brexit speech showed the UK is still guilty of wishful thinking

The Prime Minister is demanding a third way that the EU has repeatedly ruled out. 

Theresa May's Brexit speech largely consisted of her repeatedly bowing to the inevitable. The Prime Minister accepted that the UK would need a transition period of "around two years" during which it would respect the "existing structure of EU rules and regulations". The notion that Britain could leave the EU and negotiate a new trading relationship by March 2019 was always a fantasy (albeit one indulged by cabinet ministers such as David Davis and Liam Fox). Though May maintained in the subsequent Q&A that "no deal was better than a bad deal" (a line absent from her speech), no one now believes she is sincere. 

May also said what she should have said long ago to EU citizens in the UK: "We want you to stay; we value you; and we thank you for your contribution to our national life". Had the Prime Minister said as much immediately after entering No10, she would have earned valuable good will from Remainers and EU member states. In order to maintain existing citizens' rights, May conceded that UK courts should "take into account the judgments of the European Court of Justice", a retreat from her earlier absolutist position. 

The Prime Minister continued her repair mission by withdrawing the UK's threat to end security co-operation with the EU (as issued in the Article 50 letter). Compared to March of this year, when May dreamed of winning the first Conservative landslide since 1987, she is a humbled and chastened leader. The impasse in the Brexit talks has only heightened the need for emollience.

The EU, May promised, would suffer no budgetary shortfall from Britain's departure. "The UK will honour commitments we have made during the period of our membership," she vowed. So much for Boris Johnson's "go whistle".

But May's speech was weakest where it needed to be strongest: on Britain's future relationship with Europe. The Prime Minister rejected permanent single market membership, or the "Norway option", on the grounds that the UK would become a rule taker, rather than a rule maker. But she further dismissed a Canada-style free trade deal as an unacceptable "restriction on our mutual market access". For May, Norway-Canada is a false dichotomy. But in his pre-emptive speech yesterday, EU negotiator Michel Barnier maintained the exact opposite.

"We can do so much better than this," May insisted, calling for Brussels to "be creative as well as practical in designing an ambitious economic partnership". But the lack of detail and clarity revealed this to be a hope, rather than an expectation. And while Canada's free trade deal took seven years to negotiate, Britain has given itself just two years to achieve a superior agreement (how reckless the triggering of Article 50 in March 2017 now looks).

May, who campaigned for Remain, and is constrained by her fiercely Eurosceptic party, repeatedly sought to disguise the UK's predicament. But she could not disguise the grim truth: Britain is hoping for the best and unprepared for the worst. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Ann Summers can’t claim to empower women when it is teaming up with Pornhub

This is not about mutual sexual fulfilment, it is about eroticising women’s pain. 

I can’t understand why erotic retailers like Ann Summers have persisted into the twenty-first century. The store claims to be “sexy, daring, provocative and naughty”, and somewhat predictably positions itself as empowering for women. As a feminist of the unfashionable type, I can’t help but be suspicious of any form of sexual liberation that can be bought or sold.

And yet, I’d never really thought of Ann Summers as being particularly threatening to the rights of women, more just a faintly depressing reflection of heteronormativity. This changed when I saw they’d teamed-up with Pornhub. The website is reputedly the largest purveyor of online pornography in the world. Pornhub guidelines state that content flagged as  “illegal, unlawful, harassing, harmful, offensive” will be removed. Nonetheless, the site still contains simulated incest and rape with some of the more easily published film titles including “Exploited Teen Asia” (236 million views) and “How to sexually harass your secretary properly” (10.5 million views.)  With campaigns such as #metoo and #timesup are sweeping social media, it seems bizarre that a high street brand would not consider Pornhub merchandise as toxic.

Society is still bound by taboos: our hyper-sexual society glossy magazines like Teen Vogue offer girls tips on receiving anal sex, while advice on pleasuring women is notably rare. As an unabashed wanker, I find it baffling that in the year that largely female audiences queued to watch Fifty Shades Darker, a survey revealed that 20 per cent of U.S. women have never masturbated. It is an odd truth that in our apparently open society, any criticism of pornography or sexual practices is shut down as illiberal. 

Guardian-reading men who wring their hands about Fair Trade coffee will passionately defend the right to view women being abused on film. Conservative men who make claims about morals and marriage are aroused by images that in any other setting would be considered abuse. Pornography is not only misogynistic, but the tropes and language are often also racist. In what other context would racist slurs and scenarios be acceptable?

I have no doubt that some reading this will be burning to point out that feminist pornography exists. In name of course it does, but then again, Theresa May calls herself a feminist when it suits. Whether you believe feminist pornography is either possible or desirable, it is worth remembering that what is marketed as such comprises a tiny portion of the market. This won’t make me popular, but it is worth remembering feminism is not about celebrating every choice a woman makes – it is about analysing the social context in which choices are made. Furthermore, that some women also watch porn is evidence of how patriarchy shapes our desire, not that pornography is woman-friendly.  

Ann Summers parts the net curtains of nation’s suburban bedrooms and offers a glimpse into our peccadillos and preferences. That a mainstream high street retailer blithely offers guidance on hair-pulling, whipping and clamps, as well as a full range of Pornhub branded products is disturbing. This is not about women’s empowerment or mutual sexual fulfilment, it is about eroticising women’s pain. 

We are living in a world saturated with images of women and girls suffering; to pretend that there is no connection between pornography and the four-in-ten teenage girls who say they have been coerced into sex acts is naive in the extreme. For too long the state claimed that violence in the home was a domestic matter. Women and girls are now facing an epidemic of sexual violence behind bedroom doors and it is not a private matter. We need to ask ourselves which matters more: the sexual rights of men or the human rights of women?