This week Theresa May delivered the speech of her life. She might never equal it again. It will not be remembered for the passion of delivery, or any soaring lyrical phrases. It was not John F Kennedy or Winston Churchill, but it was that rare thing in politics – a speech that actually means something and changes the course of history.
After much criticism that the Prime Minister’s phrase “Brexit means Brexit” was meaningless Mrs May delivered a carefully crafted explanation of the principles that will govern her negotiations and the 12 objectives she is looking to achieve.
But explaining these points in detail, while welcome and necessary, was not what made this speech so important. No, it was two fundamental statements that we have been waiting for that achieved that – and threw down the gauntlet to this country’s opponents.
The first revelation was that the UK will not be applying to be inside the EU’s Single Market or Customs Union – for her government has decided that it is not possible to remain inside if we are to obtain full control over our country’s laws, to manage immigration to suit our own needs, and be free to arrange trade deals with the fastest growing markets. As a bonus she also confirmed we shall also avoid the “vast” cost of sending billions to the EU every year.
Instead she is offering an agreement to the EU member states where there are no tariffs or barriers to commerce – so long as that is reciprocated. She is offering rights of abode to EU citizens already here so long as that is reciprocated to UK citizens in the EU. And she is offering to ensure open custom arrangements so long as that is reciprocated too. As the EU member states have a huge trade surplus with us she is in a strong position.
The second revelation was that while she believes that mutually beneficial and constructive agreement can be reached in the Brexit negotiations she is prepared to have no deal rather than accept a bad deal. This was a seminal moment, for it displayed a hitherto unseen determination to hold out for the best deal possible. Mrs May will be no pushover.
In laying down those two positions May took the high ground of being in favour of an open, tolerant freely trading nation that, like any other country we might admire, such as Canada or Australia, makes its own laws.
She has called the bluff of both the EU Commission and Nicola Sturgeon in one fell swoop. Any punitive proposals from Brussels or an attempt by Sturgeon to force a second independence referendum will be acts of “calamitous self-harm”.
Sturgeon now knows we are leaving the Single Market, so what exactly is she going to do about it?
Time to embrace these opportunities
How often have you heard that Brexit is going to be bad for Edinburgh? It is one of the standard scare stories based on the fact that Scotland’s capital has a high degree of academic and public sector jobs – but it is a logical fallacy, or non sequitur to use its fancy name, for a poor outcome does not follow automatically.
It all depends on what policies are pursued by the national and local politicians. For a start, any fall in economic activity by state sectors could be more than made up for by a (much-needed) growth in private sector economic activity.
The good news is that while we have yet to see any public sector decline there is a great deal of evidence that the private sector in Edinburgh is blossoming. Two new reports on the city’s commercial property market tell us it is booming, with the more attractive price of sterling making foreign investment come to the capital while last year was the best since 2006 – with transaction values up 73 per cent.
Likewise tourism continues to grow and German budget airline Eurowings is adding a Munich to Edinburgh flight to its routes, adding to the existing EasyJet service.
Instead of fretting unnecessarily about the risks of Brexit our council officials should be using it as an opportunity to attract more economic investment – like so many English cities are doing.
It could start by jumping on that first flight to Munich on March 26.
Buses must not be sacrificed
So, after all, Lothian Buses are to make available an additional £20 million out of passenger fare income to fund the proposed tram line extension.
The council still has to find the wherewithal to fund the remaining £142 million needed – and who’s to say it wont be higher? It has already risen from the first estimate of £144 million.
Whatever happens no deterioration in bus services should be permitted. It is the buses that make the city tick and damaging that service which the vast majority of locals use is not an acceptable price for extending our councillors’ pet plaything.
Ukip’s future starts in Stoke
SO there is to be a by-election in Stoke-on-Trent with Labour defending a slim 5000 majority. This could be the first political upset of the year for Stoke was calculated as the city with the largest share of “leave” voters in last year’s referendum – 69.4 per cent on a 65.7 per cent turnout. And guess what? The new leader of Ukip, Paul Nuttall, has thrown his hat in the ring.
Ukip badly needs some good news to give itself a future. With Nuttal arguing he can hold Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn to account he must have a chance. One thing is certain the Liberal Democrats will come way behind – and possibly lose their deposit.