PM’s conciliatory tone won’t make the Brexit divorce any easier

Free Brexit guide
The view on Theresa May’s Florence speech from Bruce Potter, Chairman of Blake Morgan.

If Brexit is a divorce, it is showing all the signs of being an acrimonious and expensive one. And, as with the end of many marriages, this one comes down to the money.

Theresa May set out to strike a conciliatory and calming note with her speech in Florence, but it was not enough to paper over the huge gap that remains between the UK’s domestic political view of Brexit and the way the rest of Europe sees it.

The success of the Brexit transition depends upon the UK and EU views overlapping enough to light a common road forward. The question of continued payments to the EU is currently a huge roadblock to progress on the one thing that UK politicians need to progress more than anything else – market access after Brexit.

In effect, Mrs May is hoping that during a post-Brexit transition period, the UK can continue to enjoy the benefits of the relationship, including the single market and the customs union, while “seeing other people” in the hope of starting new partnerships, and while also being allowed to change the access arrangements.

The question of whether (and how much) the UK is prepared to pay for that privilege, is one which also needs to be resolved domestically before any way forward can be agreed with the European Commission.

An increasingly impatient Michel Barnier, chief negotiator for the EU, has made it clear that it is now time for a “detailed and substantial” offer – one which cannot be made until this issue is resolved.

Mrs May has asked the EU to be “imaginative and creative” but until she is more forthcoming about exactly what she wants Brexit to be, and what the whole settlement looks like -  not just the bit the domestic political audience is interested in - it is hard to see that common road emerging.

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