James Forsyth

What we learnt about Brexit from Theresa May today

What we learnt about Brexit from Theresa May today
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Theresa May began her statement on the G20 by talking about Brexit. She insisted that she wasn’t going to give a ‘running commentary’ or reveal the government’s negotiating hand as, she said, that would not deliver the best deal for Britain. In other words, we’ll all just have to wait and see what she negotiates.

May’s insistence that she won’t rule anything in or out does lead to some rather bizarre moments. May repeatedly, and rightly, stressed the trade deals that the UK would seek to do outside the EU. But when Labour’s Emma Reynolds asked her to confirm that these deals would require leaving the customs union, May ducked the question.

But despite May’s stonewalling, I think we did learn something from her determination not to ‘pre-judge’ the results of the Brexit negotiations and her desire not to rule anything out. It suggests that the government initially intends to ask for everything in the negotiations, a moon on a stick strategy.

This explains Number 10’s unwillingness to back up David Davis’ observation that it is highly improbable that the UK can stay inside the single market and control immigration. You can see an argument for doing this. It would start the negotiations from a British point of view and would also have the effect of allowing EU leaders to tell their domestic audiences that they rejected the first British offer and negotiated them down.

But then the key question becomes, not what Theresa May wants out of a Brexit deal but what she will accept.