May’s Speech: Destination Canada?

During the Brexit referendum campaign my thinking was probably most informed by Jean-Claude Piris’s excellent paper “Brexit or Britin: is it really colder outside?” and I came to the conclusion that the Norway model was the most likely destination, not least because it was seemed to be the favoured endpoint of some leading Brexiteers such as Farage, Paterson and Hannan. This seemed the least worse option. Of course, voting Remain was the sensible thing to do. It seemed clear however, given the abysmal mediocrity of the IN campaign (one honorable exception was Gordon Brown’s Coventry Cathedral speech), and the passion of the Leave campaign that Leave would carry the day.

Things have of course moved on since and my thinking is now informed by many sources, blogs and Twitter feeds. There are too many to mention but special mentions  include Prof Chris Grey’s “The Brexit Blog“, Ian Dunt author of “Brexit: What the hell happens now?” and editor of, Chris Kendall, an occasional contributor to Progressive Pulse, David Allen Green (Both his FT articles and Jack of Kent Blog), Prof Simon Wren Lewis on his Mainly Macro blog, Prof Richard Murphy on his TRUK blog and Steve Bullock who mainly communicates via twitter as @GuitarMoog and together with Chris Kendall produces the CakeWatch podcasts. In terms of podcasts the Remainiacs podcast is also well worth listening to.

There have been a number of speeches which supposedly clarified the UK position, culminating in PM May’s speech on Friday which seemed designed for internal Tory party consumption and was naturally hailed as a triumph in the right-wing media.  However, few serious commentators were very impressed. Guy Verhofstadt, for example, said “The UK Government must understand that the EU is a rules based organisation, as there is little appetite to renegotiate the rules of the single market to satisfy a compromise crafted to placate a divided Conservative party.” It seems that the speech has largely gone down like a lead balloon on the continent.

One very nice analysis from an unexpected media outlet is in the Meath Cronicle by former Taioseach John Bruton:

One of the tests that Mrs May set for an acceptable Brexit, was that it would be one that would strengthen the Union between the four “nations” that make up the UK.

But the process of Brexit itself is having the opposite effect. In the way the referendum was set up, a majority of English and Welsh “leave” voters were allowed to overrule “remain” majorities in the two other “nations”, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The Brexit Referendum was a crude exercise for English power, to satisfy a purely English political agenda.


But the text of the Withdrawal Treaty is not yet agreed, and that must be done before the substantive negotiation can begin on the matters Mrs May talked about in her speech.

But the fact that the UK has not come up with a legal text of its own for the Withdrawal Treaty, to reflect the agreement Mrs May made in December, but is still criticising the EU version virulently, shows that we have long way to go on this unproductive, time wasting and tragic road to Brexit.

By curious symmetry one of the best analyses of May’s speech is again by Jean-Claude Piris, this time in the form of a twitter thread which has been converted to a numerical list. Many thanks to Chris Kendall for retweeting.

  1. This would have been a «normal» speech one year ago, when triggering art 50 procedure. At this late stage, It looks like showing dangerous irrealism!
  2. Some precisions are welcome, for instance the acceptance of State aid and competition rules. The aggressive so called «Singapore model», which was never credible, is abandoned.
  3. Clarity on the choices: no single market SM, no custom union CU: they would also be welcome IF their unavoidable consequences were recognised and communicated honestly to the public.
  4. But this is not the case. Illusions continue that the U.K. might have rights and benefits without accepting duties and costs. And this on the two major problems: the Irish border and the access to EU SM , without being a member of EU or EEA
  5. Irish border: the choice against both SM and CU, neither for the whole U.K. nor for NI, means that there is no solution which would permit no hard border. Mrs May did not propose any. She is asking for help! But the U.K. is deciding alone Brexit +no SM+no CU, nobody else!
  6. Thus the responsibility to find a solution to a problem which was well known before the referendum is a British responsibility. So, what solution? When?
  7. On access to SM, still illusions. Mrs May increased the number of EU policies, parts of SM, EURATOM, even Agencies which are not open to third countries (chemicals, medicines) that U.K. would like to REMAIN in…Shows that U.K. has interest to be as close as possible to EU and SM.
  8. But EU not ready to sacrifice its IM integrity/credibility to make a favour to U.K. (and why not others?). HMG has not yet understood the huge gap between classic international law and EU law, which is the very reason why the SM is a success
  9. Alignment of rules and standards is not enough. SM demands single legislation, the four freedoms, a single interpretation by EUCJ, primacy over national laws. Application controlled and sanctioned. All this sine qua non conditions.
  10. That UK is still hoping, at this late hour, that the three baskets and a bilateral tribunal will do the trick and would allow a pick and choose of the most precious cherries is a huge mistake. U.K. continues to lose precious time with irrealist requests.
  11. Realism should be for the U.K. to communicate honestly what everybody knows by now: that without SM and CU negotiations shall lead to an FTA (Canadian model), and to work on it to get best results as possible in order to reduce the negative effects of Brexit on U.K. economy
  12. This is a political choice made by the U.K., not by the EU, which doors are still open.

For the sake of brevity I won’t go through the other sources mentioned above, but there seems near universal agreement that a Canada model is the only one which is likely to be on offer, maybe a Canada with a very small plus. Of course either crashing out with no deal or calling the whole thing off are likely options. Jean-Claude Piris stresses again that the EU doors are still open.


  1. Ivan Horrocks -

    Sean, I think Andrew Rawnsley made much the same point about May’s speech being something we should have heard a year or more ago. But there we are – or here we are – a year to go and only now able to say what our negotiating ‘principles’ are!!

    You really could not make this up, it’s just so amateur. To use a household analogy, it’s akin to signing a contract to buy a house and only after you’ve done this drawing up a list of what features are important to you – detached, off street parking, large garden, etc. And then, when you realise the house you’ve agreed to buy doesn’t have the features you want, asking the seller to redesign the house so you can have them.

    Of course, the Brexiteer house purchaser would say, ‘yes, but we’re going to make a contribution to the cost.’ To which most sellers would reply, ‘there are plenty more buyers out there who know what they want and won’t muck me about, so take your contribution and get stuffed.’ And let’s be honest, this is what the EU are on the verge of doing, as May, Davis, and co simply have zero credibility after the performance so far.

  2. Peter May -

    But I don’t understand how Canada plus can solve the Irish border issue? That will be the government’s nemesis because even crashing out won’t give the ‘regulatory alignment’ (was it?) that they’ve already agreed – rather stupidly from their point of view.

    1. Sean Danaher -

      the incompetence of the current UK Government is a wonder to behold. Its all so depressing as the UK has a superbly competent Civil and Diplomatic Service.

      If it ends with a Canada style deal then an Irish Sea border is the only thing that makes sense. The DUP are well out of line with the NI electorate, who would vote for a Sea Border and have dropped about 3 points in the polls (major in a NI context) as they have been lying about the reason the NI assembly talks broke down.

Comments are closed.