Most of Theresa May’s statement today was simply a reiteration of what she had said in Florence. But we did get clarity on one crucial point. In answer to a question from Jacob Rees-Mogg, Theresa May explicitly accepted that the European Court of Justice would have a role during the transition. She said that she hoped it would be replaced at some point by a new dispute resolution mechanism. But at the beginning of the transition, the ECJ will be the arbiter.
Now, there will be Brexiteers who don’t like this; Jacob Rees-Mogg’s question was seeking an assurance that this would not be the case. But if the transition is to see the UK stay inside the single market in everything but name, it is hard to see how this can be avoided. But it does make it all the more vital that the transition is time limited.
Perhaps, the biggest difference from the Florence statement was tonal. May was much keener to point out that the government ‘continues to make plans for every eventuality’ than she had been then. This is, obviously, designed to address criticism that the government is not prepared for a ‘no deal’ scenario. But there will have to be a lot more done before any UK threat to walk away is really taken seriously.
One other striking thing was that when Theresa May was asked about £350 million a week, she gave an answer that was strikingly helpful to Boris Johnson. This, perhaps, shows that Number 10 now realise that they need to help him out politically on this point. If that is the case, then I suspect they will find him easier to deal with in future. For one of the things that has driven his behaviour in recent weeks was a desire to show that he wasn’t lying about this.
Today was also a reminder of how Jeremy Corbyn is no Robin Cook. A better Commons performer could have had a field day with the government’s divisions over Brexit and asked some really probing questions about it. But Corbyn had one half decent jibe at the Tories—saying that half of them want Hammond sacked and the other half want Boris Johnson sacked—and no forensic investigation of where the government actually stands on the big, end state questions. Life would be much more uncomfortable for Theresa May if her opposite number was better at the despatch box.