Professor Anand Menon, director UK in a Changing Europe, said: The Prime Minister is proving to be a past master (mistress) at the art of speaking without revealing much. ‘Brexit means Brexit’ was an initial holding operation over the summer. And now she has repeated the feat. The Great British Repeal Act tells us little at all as an act was always going to be required at the time of leaving the EU. Its name is certainly flamboyant. Its portent is less striking.
“On substance, we are only a little, if at all, closer to knowing where all this will take us. The maximum freedom for business she referred to would involve membership of the market, which implies a loss of control over immigration and being subject to EU law. It does not seem to me she has definitively chosen between the two, though the tone of her speech implied that control matters more than the market.
“Finally, there was no indication of a timeframe for a decision. Will Britain seek a transitional arrangement to allow us time to strike a long term deal after the 2 year period allowed under article 50? If not, it seems highly unlikely such a deal will be possible.
“Much, therefore, remains unclear.”
Professor John Curtice, senior fellow UK in a Changing Europe, said: “Mrs May’s announcement that Article 50 will be invoked by the end of March next year confirms what has long been an open secret. It comes as little surprise either that Parliament will be invited to repeal the 1972 European Communities Act and in so doing, incorporate existing EU legislation into British law. Neither development takes us any further forward in understanding the stance the UK government will take in its negotiations with the EU.
“However, her speech did give us one vital clue as to what that stance will be. Mrs May made it clear that the UK government wants to have control over immigration from the EU. At the same time, she indicated that she was only seeking access to the EU single market, not continued membership of it. It seems that the Prime Minister’s understanding of what Brexit means is closer to the perspective of most Leave voters rather than the preferences of those who, like her, voted to Remain.”
Professor Catherine Barnard, senior fellow UK in a Changing Europe, said: “Six matters stand out. First, the PM made clear the only way for the UK to leave the EU is through the Article 50 process – slapping down those who think the UK can leave simply by repealing the European Communities Act (ECA) 1972. There will, as David Davis put it, be an orderly and smooth process, using Article 50.
“Second, the PM put up a spirited defence that only the government can invoke Article 50 (through its prerogative powers); there is no role for an Act of Parliament.
“Third, the Prime Minister fully expects the UK to leave as an entire entity (and not just England and Wales leaving, with a special deal for Scotland and Northern Ireland).
“Fourth, and unsurprisingly, the Great Repeal Bill will be put before parliament, repealing the ECA 1972 and removing the direct effect of EU law. This will put Parliament in charge of laws in the UK, not Brussels, and certainly remove the role of the Court of Justice.
“Fifth, the Prime Minister expressly ruled out the ‘Norway’ and ‘Swiss’ options and retuning to the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice – but she made no reference to other enforcement bodies such as the EFTA Court. Is there wriggle room here? But she does seem to be priroritising a harder-edge Brexit, even though she doesn’t like the terms hard/soft Brexit.
“Sixth, the Prime Minister gave a commitment to retain EU employment rights in the course of her administration. So, if this is taken literally, the Working Time Regulations and the Agency Work Regulations are safe for the time being.”
Jonathan Portes, senior fellow UK in a Changing Europe, said: “We may know more about the timing of Brexit from Theresa May’s speech today, but we still don’t know what Brexit means for the two key issues of trade and immigration. The fundamental tradeoff – that the greater the restrictions the UK places on labour mobility post-Brexit, the greater are likely to be the new barriers to trade flows between the UK and the EU – remains, and we have no more clarity on how the government intends to make those tradeoffs. That means continued uncertainty for businesses, both those who trade with the EU and those who employ EU nationals, and of course for EU citizens resident here and Brits abroad.
“What we cannot and should not do is delude ourselves that we can ‘have our cake and eat it’. We can be under no illusions about the strength of our negotiating position. Claims that because we run a large trade deficit with the EU somehow they need trade with us more than vice versa simply don’t add up. Exports from the UK to the rest of the EU are about 1/8th (12.5%) of UK GDP; but EU exports to us are only 3% of EU GDP.”
Professor Richard Whitman, senior fellow UK in a Changing Europe, said: “The Prime Minister was correct to identify that there is the need to think about the role of the UK in the world – ‘Global Britain’ in her words – alongside Brexit. The problem is the UK’s key allies and most third countries saw the UK as being globally significant because of its ability to influence the EU from the inside. There was nothing in the speech to clarify where the new sources of influence and importance will come from.”
Dr Angus Armstrong, senior fellow UK in a Changing Europe, said: “The triggering of Article 50 by March may be needed for political reasons but it is not necessarily conducive to the best possible outcome for the UK.
“Finance theory tells us that when there is uncertainty and an investment decision cannot be reversed, then there is there is value in waiting for the uncertainty to be resolved. The timing of starting the Article 50 process meets these conditions.
“The process faces at least two important uncertainties: first, can the best outcome for the UK be achieved in the two year window and, second, who are will be the UK’s main interlocutors?
“If we need an extension to the two year window to achieve the best outcome, we are likely to be in a stronger negotiating position to achieve this before starting the Article 50 process rather than after. All of the discussions to date suggest the process is harder than expected.
“In May we will know the outcome of the French Presidential election. The potential victors have very different policies towards the EU and may have an important baring on the EU negotiating position. Waiting to find out who wins may make sense for our strategy. Starting our negotiations before the election process is complete may lead to unwanted politicisation.
“Some may say that it is best to start Article 50 as soon as possible so that it is competed as soon as possible. But the priority should be getting the best possible Brexit outcome for the UK not the fastest or politically most expedient.”