WWN #3 – The PM’s Speech on Brexit

Theresa May – “A Stronger, Fairer, More Global Britain”

What’s been happening?

  • On the 23rd of June 2016, a historic referendum was held to decide whether UK should remain or leave the European Union (EU). Although the polls suggested that “remain” would prevail in the final days of campaigning, the “Leave” supporters won the referendum by 52% to 48%.
  • Following the result, David Cameron stepped down as Prime Minister and Theresa May took over as Britain’s new Prime Minister.
  • In October 2016, Theresa May revealed a deadline for Britain’s exit (Brexit) of the European Union, namely by the end of March 2017. The UK would therefore be expected to have left the EU by the summer of 2019. Beginning the formal departure process involves invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.

What is Article 50?

  • Article 50 is a part of the Lisbon Treaty which became law in December 2009, allowing member states of the EU to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements.
  • Though the exit rules contained in Article 50 are brief, it acts as a formal notification of the intention to withdraw.
  • Britain’s 27 counterparts (the other member countries in the EU) will be able to negotiate the terms of the exit although if no agreement is reached then;
  • It is noted that the European Council can agree to extend the two year period for negotiations.
  • If none of the above occurs, the departing country will still depart in accordance with Article 50.

What now?

On the 17th of January 2017, Theresa May made a crucial speech to the rest of the world about Brexit, outlining twelve objectives which will realise her ultimate goal of having “a new, positive and constructive partnership between Britain and the European Union”.


  1. Certainty – Provide stability to businesses, economy and the public at large. Existing EU law will be converted into British law.
  2. Control of laws – New laws will be made and interpreted by courts within the United Kingdom (UK). The UK will be removed from the European Court of Justice (ECJ).
  3. Strengthen the Union – The four nations of the UK (England, Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland) are to be strengthened and remain united.
  4. Maintain the Common Travel Area with Ireland – A practical solution will be reached where it will be maintained as an open borders area while simultaneously protecting the UK’s immigration system.
  5. Control of Immigration – “International talent” for students and workers will be welcomed but the immigration system will be managed and serve national interest. The number of people coming to Britain from EU will be controlled.
  6. Rights for EU Nationals in Britain and British nationals in the EU – it is an important priority but there has been no agreement reached.
  7. Workers’ rights will be protected – Workers’ rights will be fully protected and maintained through the translation of the body of European law into British law (see Point 1).
  8. Free trade with European markets – ‘Single market’ access and a new ‘bold and ambitious’ Free Trade Agreement while not being a member of the EU will allow the UK to control its borders and not have to financially contribute to the EU budget.
  9. New trade agreements with other countries – As many barriers of trade should be removed so that there can be future FTAs reached with countries outside Europe such as Australia, New Zealand and India (which is in discussion already according to May).
  10. The best place for science and innovation – Continuing to welcome collaboration from European partners on academic and scientific endeavours and studies.
  11. Cooperation in the fight against crime and terrorism – There will be continued cooperation with other European nations in terms of security and sharing intelligence material.
  12. A smooth, orderly Brexit – A ‘phased process of implementation’ is required in order to reach an agreement about Britain by the time the two year Article 50 process has concluded.

What’s Next?

While aspects of Theresa May’s speech were quite conciliatory in tone and showed a willingness to work together with European nations for Brexit, there were some issues that were raised which will no doubt provoke some countries as well. Her negotiating position on immigration and free trade are key points that offer little room for compromise – trade as free as possible while establishing strict immigration controls (points 5 and 8)? It doesn’t work like that.

Where the speech was effective, was in making “Brexit” a more realistic option. It raised issues that required attention and dialogue between the UK and its counterparts. It presented a practical solution of a transitional arrangement with the EU (point 12) which would appear to the best way to avoid an economic catastrophe. Ms May mentions that there should be set length of time for this implementation period in order to avoid delaying Brexit indefinitely.

According to the intended timeline of departure, March will be the month to watch where we can expect to see some more “Brexit” action taking place with Article 50 expected to be triggered then. Under heavy debate in the courts of Ireland currently is also the option to “reverse” Brexit. Can it be done if Britain decides that leaving is a bad idea? The case has been submitted by British lawyer Jolyon Maugham this January and he is confident that it will be accepted and heard by the ECJ.



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