Theresa May’s speech in Florence was fine as far as it went, I say in The Sun this morning. A time limited transition is a sensible way to smooth out Brexit.
But May didn’t answer the really big questions in this speech: what kind of future relationship with the EU does the UK want? How does it think regulatory divergence should be managed?
The problem is that the Cabinet is divided on these questions—and neither side is strong enough to win the argument. So, Boris and Gove can stop Hammond and Heywood from getting what they want. But they can’t win the debate themselves. The result is a stalemate. This means the government doesn’t have clear direction on this crucial question.
May should summon the whole Cabinet to Chequers soon and insist that they thrash this out until they can come to a common position. The other thing she must do is step up preparations for a ‘no deal’ scenario. As she herself admits, the EU will only negotiate in good faith if it thinks the UK can walk away. But to date, the preparations for no deal have been inadequate. This creates a danger that this country is left having to accept whatever the EU offers because there is no alternative.
There are signs that the Cabinet is now waking up to this risk. I understand that at Cabinet on Thursday both Jeremy Hunt and Sajid Javid raised the issue of ‘no deal’ preparations. But ministers need to keep the pressure up on this point.