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Theresa May’s masterclass in mutual dissatisfaction

2 March 2018

4:57 PM

2 March 2018

4:57 PM

Theresa May’s speech today won’t have left any portion of her party ecstatic. As the Prime Minister promised ‘ups and downs in the months ahead’, she warned that ‘no-one will get everything they want’. With compromises coming down the track, May made sure to dish today’s disappointment out in an even-handed manner.

For the Remain side of her party that meant their hopes for a customs union compromise – as Isabel reported earlier in the week – were dashed. She not only re-iterated her stated position that the UK would leave the customs union but said that the UK should be able to set its own tariffs. That suggests not even a partial customs union is possible. There was also strong wording that there would not be a ‘soft’ Brexit that accommodates the City. May said that ‘passporting’ for financial institutions would end. The hope in government is that today’s speech will have helped convince Brussels to opt for a bespoke option and include financial services in any deal meaning an alternative solution could be found.


On the Brexit side, the speech today also carried some warning signs. May said the UK would make ‘binding commitments’ for regulations to remain aligned with EU ones in some areas. This is contentious for a couple of reasons. Firstly, as James revealed yesterday, the wording caused a row of sorts at Cabinet on Thursday, with David Davis and Boris Johnson expressing concern that this committed the UK to more than what was agreed at Chequers. The fact May used the phrase anyway suggests that the concerns of Greg Clark – who sits on the Remain side of Cabinet and pushed for that ‘reassurance’ for business – were heard. Another potential issue is May’s announcement that the UK will join some EU agencies which would mean being a rule taker.

However, despite all this, the reaction the party has so far been overwhelmingly positive. On the Remain side, Nicky Morgan and Heidi Allen have welcomed its contents as ‘greatly’ encouraging and a ‘very welcome tone’. Morgan goes as far as to day the ‘EU cannot say now it doesn’t know what UK wants’. Meanwhile, the Brexit side have also expressed warm words – with the European Research Group saying they are ‘relaxed’ about it. Vote Leave’s Matthew Elliott has also given it his seal of approval.

The relative calm is in large down to the fact that no-one got exactly what they wanted. Theresa May has managed to keep her party just about together this afternoon through mutual dissatisfaction. A timely reminder as to why she was – and is still – seen as the unity candidate.


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