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Theresa May: Lancaster House speech (17 Jan 2017) - highlights (Part 1)

Editorial Staff

It's taken Theresa May months to pop her head up and make clear statements about the UK's exit strategy for separation from the EU. There have been hints, partial statements, but there have been no clear policy statements or expressions of exactly what the plan is. This week, she changed that.

And she demonstrated that, at last, she "gets it" so far as the LEAVE vote is concerned.

In this first of a series of highlights from the speech, we explain, with comments, where, on the May plan, the UK, the EU and much of the rest of the world is going.

"A little over six months ago, the British people voted for change.

They voted to shape a brighter future for our country.

They voted to leave the European Union and embrace the world.

And they did so with their eyes open: accepting that the road ahead will be uncertain at times, but believing that it leads towards a brighter future for their children – and their grandchildren too."


" I want this United Kingdom to emerge from this period of change stronger, fairer, more united and more outward-looking than ever before. I want us to be a secure, prosperous, tolerant country – a magnet for international talent and a home to the pioneers and innovators who will shape the world ahead. I want us to be a truly Global Britain – the best friend and neighbour to our European partners, but a country that reaches beyond the borders of Europe too. A country that gets out into the world to build relationships with old friends and new allies alike.

I want Britain to be what we have the potential, talent and ambition to be. A great, global trading nation that is respected around the world and strong, confident and united at home."


"The result of the referendum was not a decision to turn inward and retreat from the world.

Because Britain’s history and culture is profoundly internationalist.

We are a European country – and proud of our shared European heritage – but we are also a country that has always looked beyond Europe to the wider world. That is why we are one of the most racially diverse countries in Europe, one of the most multicultural members of the European Union, and why – whether we are talking about India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, America, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, countries in Africa or those that are closer to home in Europe – so many of us have close friends and relatives from across the world.

Instinctively, we want to travel to, study in, trade with countries not just in Europe but beyond the borders of our continent. Even now as we prepare to leave the EU, we are planning for the next biennial Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in 2018 – a reminder of our unique and proud global relationships."


it is important to recognise this fact. June the 23rd was not the moment Britain chose to step back from the world. It was the moment we chose to build a truly Global Britain.

I know that this – and the other reasons Britain took such a decision – is not always well understood among our friends and allies in Europe. And I know many fear that this might herald the beginning of a greater unravelling of the EU.

But let me be clear: I do not want that to happen. It would not be in the best interests of Britain. It remains overwhelmingly and compellingly in Britain’s national interest that the EU should succeed. And that is why I hope in the months and years ahead we will all reflect on the lessons of Britain’s decision to leave.


"let me take this opportunity to set out the reasons for our decision and to address the people of Europe directly.

It’s not simply because our history and culture is profoundly internationalist, important though that is. Many in Britain have always felt that the United Kingdom’s place in the European Union came at the expense of our global ties, and of a bolder embrace of free trade with the wider world.

There are other important reasons too.

Our political traditions are different. Unlike other European countries, we have no written constitution, but the principle of Parliamentary Sovereignty is the basis of our unwritten constitutional settlement. We have only a recent history of devolved governance – though it has rapidly embedded itself – and we have little history of coalition government. The public expect to be able to hold their governments to account very directly, and as a result supranational institutions as strong as those created by the European Union sit very uneasily in relation to our political history and way of life.

And, while I know Britain might at times have been seen as an awkward member state, the European Union has struggled to deal with the diversity of its member countries and their interests. It bends towards uniformity, not flexibility. David Cameron’s negotiation was a valiant final attempt to make it work for Britain – and I want to thank all those elsewhere in Europe who helped him reach an agreement – but the blunt truth, as we know, is that there was not enough flexibility on many important matters for a majority of British voters.

Now I do not believe that these things apply uniquely to Britain. Britain is not the only member state where there is a strong attachment to accountable and democratic government, such a strong internationalist mindset, or a belief that diversity within Europe should be celebrated. And so I believe there is a lesson in Brexit not just for Britain but, if it wants to succeed, for the EU itself.

Because our continent’s great strength has always been its diversity. And there are two ways of dealing with different interests. You can respond by trying to hold things together by force, tightening a vice-like grip that ends up crushing into tiny pieces the very things you want to protect. Or you can respect difference, cherish it even, and reform the EU so that it deals better with the wonderful diversity of its member states.

So to our friends across Europe, let me say this.

Our vote to leave the European Union was no rejection of the values we share. The decision to leave the EU represents no desire to become more distant to you, our friends and neighbours. It was no attempt to do harm to the EU itself or to any of its remaining member states. We do not want to turn the clock back to the days when Europe was less peaceful, less secure and less able to trade freely. It was a vote to restore, as we see it, our parliamentary democracy, national self-determination, and to become even more global and internationalist in action and in spirit."


We want to buy your goods and services, sell you ours, trade with you as freely as possible, and work with one another to make sure we are all safer, more secure and more prosperous through continued friendship.

You will still be welcome in this country as we hope our citizens will be welcome in yours. At a time when together we face a serious threat from our enemies, Britain’s unique intelligence capabilities will continue to help to keep people in Europe safe from terrorism. And at a time when there is growing concern about European security, Britain’s servicemen and women, based in European countries including Estonia, Poland and Romania, will continue to do their duty.

We are leaving the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe.

And that is why we seek a new and equal partnership – between an independent, self-governing, Global Britain and our friends and allies in the EU.

Not partial membership of the European Union, associate membership of the European Union, or anything that leaves us half-in, half-out. We do not seek to adopt a model already enjoyed by other countries. We do not seek to hold on to bits of membership as we leave.

No, the United Kingdom is leaving the European Union.



Now we have some idea why Therese May has taken so long to formulate this approach: she was firmly in the REMAIN camp during campaigning for the Referendum. To appoint her as Prime Minister to deliver something to which she was opposed was a peculiar decision, in some quarters seen as an attempt by REMAINers to sabotage the exit.

But this portion of the speech shows that what has in fact happened is that she at last understands why so many Britons decided that the EU experiment, at least insofar as the UK is concerned, has failed.

However, in this extract, there is inconsistency between what she says is in the UK's interests and how she says it will be achieved. She says that "out" means "out" and that there will be, in effect, no partial withdrawal. Then she says that things that worry people, free movement of people, co-operation on security, and other things, will continue. The reality is that these are the things that even Exiteers want to hold onto: it is the political direction and interference in UK domestic politics that the British really want to get rid of.

But equally important is that she is making it clear that one of the reasons the EU does not suit the UK is that EU law prevents the UK doing bi-lateral trade deals. It also effectively denies the UK its place in the British Commonwealth. These are things that are important to Exiteers. For example, the young who were not born when the UK joined the EU and who were more in favour than the status quo than of reform (a bizarre situation contrary to almost everything we know about the young in politics) do not know that Britain and New Zealand's trade in sheep products was dramatically cut overnight amid EU demands that the British bought French lamb, etc. and that no favouritism be shown to a country with which the UK has special ties. Out of the EU, all those deals can be done again, putting the UK at the heart of the Commonwealth, a situation which helps provide not only a global trade network that will dwarf the EU but also create a wide range of stability across the world.

So, it's been a long time coming but this part of the speech, at least, establishes that Theresa May at last "gets it." Hopefully the domestic critics of "Brexit" will begin to understand what they blindly and ignorantly dismissed during campaigning.

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