Theresa May's Promises: Keeping Her Honest

An Open Letter to the Prime Minister

Dear Prime Minister,

You have been Prime Minister for more than a year and a half and yet it has taken you until now to explain in any detail to the public what you believe the future relationship between the UK and the EU should be. It was your decision to rule out membership of the Single Market and the Customs Union, yet you and the Brexit Secretary have misleadingly claimed we can do this and at the same time retain all the benefits of membership.

Since the referendum, you and your ministers have made a number of promises about our future trading relationship with the EU:

  1. The exact same benefits as today
  2. No hard border on the island of Ireland or across the UK
  3. Fully negotiated by March 2019
  4. No payment for access to the EU market
  5. A complete end to EU rules and regulations
  6. Continuation of all EU trade deals and new deals ready to come into force

Listed below are the promises made by you and your Ministers, in your own words.

We have grave doubts as to whether these six promises can be delivered, and we do not believe they are all desirable. But they are the commitments against which your speech tomorrow will be judged. If you back away from them everybody has the right to ask whether the reality of Brexit matches up to what has been promised.

The time for deceptive rhetoric and outlandish promises is now over. There are only two options today: you must explain to the British public how you will deliver on the promises you have made, or come clean that the Brexit you and your ministers have promised is not feasible.

Your sincerely,

Vince Cable MP

Caroline Lucas MP

Chuka Umunna MP

The Six Promises

1. The exact same benefits in our trade with the EU

Your Government has promised to secure a deal that delivers the ‘exact same benefits’ as we currently enjoy in our trading relationship with the EU, including frictionless trade and no change to the invisible border in Ireland.

“What we have come up with—I hope to persuade her that this is a very worthwhile aim—is the idea of a comprehensive free trade agreement and a comprehensive customs agreement that will deliver the exact same benefits as we have.”
David Davis, Hansard Vol 620, 24 Jan 2017

"It will be a different relationship, but I think it can have the same benefits in terms of that free access to trade."
Theresa May, BBC interview, 29 March 2017

The International Trade Secretary, Liam Fox, has said achieving all this should be “one of the easiest [trade deals] in human history”.

“The free trade agreement that we will have to do with the European Union should be one of the easiest in human history."
Liam Fox, BBC Today Programme, 20 July 2017

2. No hard border on the island of Ireland or across the UK

You have consistently said that there will be no new borders within the UK, and no hard border across the island of Ireland.

“Nobody wants to return to the borders of the past, so we will make it a priority to deliver a practical solution as soon as we can.”
Theresa May, Lancaster House speech, 17 January 2017[1]

"We have both stated explicitly that we will not accept any physical infrastructure at the border."
Theresa May, Florence Speech, 22 September 2017[2]

The agreement signed by the Government and the EU27 on 8 December made clear this commitment to avoiding a hard border or “any physical infrastructure or related checks and controls.”

"The United Kingdom also recalls its commitment to the avoidance of a hard border, including any physical infrastructure or related checks and controls." 

UK-EU Joint Report on Phase 1, 8 December 2017[3]

This is despite the fact that you yourself said during the referendum campaign that you couldn’t foresee how there could be an open border between the UK and Ireland after a hard Brexit.

“Just think about it, if we were out of the European Union, with tariffs on exporting goods into the EU, there would have to be something to recognise that between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. And if you pulled out of the EU and came out of free movement then how could you have a situation where there was an open border with a country which was in the EU and had access to free movement?”

Theresa May, BBC, 21 June 2016[4]


3. Fully negotiated by March 2019

Ministers have repeatedly claimed that they will negotiate a comprehensive free trade agreement (FTA) with the EU by March 2019. Most FTAs take many years to negotiate but David Davis has repeatedly insisted he can wrap up not only the withdrawal agreement, but also the entire future relationship, before the UK leaves the EU.

"I believe that we can get a free trade and customs agreement negotiation concluded in the period." 

David Davis, Evidence to Lords EU Committee, 18 January 2017[5]

Hilary Benn: Now, as you told the House of Lords Select Committee when you appeared in July, I believe you have just said, “I believe we can get a free‑trade and customs agreement negotiation concluded in the period before March 2019.” Do you really think all of that can be done in 12 months?

David Davis: Yes.
David Davis, Evidence to the Committee on Exiting the EU, 25 October 2017[6]

"I mean it’s more like a year than 8 months in truth, but because bear in mind we can’t sign this until after March, until after we actually leave. Maybe one minute after we leave, or one second after we leave, but the formal technicalities we can’t do that. But we’ve got about a year."
David Davis, BBC Andrew Marr Show, 10 December 2017[7]

You yourself have said the FTA will be negotiated before Britain formally leaves the EU. In December 2016, she told a parliamentary committee that “at the point at which we exit the European Union, we will need to know what our new relationship with the European Union is”.

Theresa May: Of course, at the point at which we exit the European Union, we will need to know what our new relationship with the European Union is.
Hilary Benn: Do I take it from that that you are wholly confident that it will be possible to negotiate both parts within the time available, which could be as little as 18 months?
Theresa May: It could be as little as 18 months.
Theresa May, Evidence to the Liaison Committee, 20 Dec 2016

In October 2017, she went even further, saying Britain will only enter into an “implementation period” if the future partnership has been negotiated before we leave.

“The point of the implementation period is to put in place the practical changes necessary to move to the future partnership and, in order to have that, you need to know what that future partnership is going to be.”
Theresa May, House of Commons, 23 October 2017[8]


4. No payment for access to the EU market

Non-EU member states which have full access to the Single Market, such as Norway and Switzerland, have negotiated agreements by which they pay for access. But you have consistently ruled out the idea of making “vast contributions” to the EU in return for access to the Single Market, and said she doesn’t want the EU to have any say over how UK finances are spent.

"[T]he days of Britain making vast contributions to the European Union every year will end."
Theresa May, Lancaster House speech, 17 January 2017[9]

“What is important is that when we leave the EU, people want us to ensure that it is the British Government that decide how taxpayers’ money is spent.”
Theresa May, House of Commons, 19 Dec 2016[10]

Instead, you have said the UK might pay for participation in “some specific European programmes”. This has largely been taken to mean agencies and bodies like the European Medicines Agency and the European Aviation Safety Authority. But this is quite different to paying for market access.

"And because we will no longer be members of the single market, we will not be required to contribute huge sums to the EU budget. There may be some specific European programmes in which we might want to participate. If so, and this will be for us to decide, it is reasonable that we should make an appropriate contribution."
Theresa May, Lancaster House speech, 17 January 2017[11]

In recent months, Boris Johnson applied pressure on you to rule out paying for access to the Single Market.

“We would not expect to pay for access to their markets any more than they would expect to pay for access to ours.”
Boris Johnson, The Telegraph, 17 September 2017[12]

Responding to reports that Britain could keep paying into the EU budget after Brexit in exchange for the UK finance sector getting privileged access to European markets, Downing Street could not have been clearer in ruling this out.[13]

“We will not be paying for market access.”
No 10 spokesman, 11 January 2018[14]

 

5. A complete end to EU rules and regulations

You have been clear that the final deal will end any role for the European Court of Justice in the UK. This, you have said, is so Britain can choose to change the rules and regulations governing everything from food labelling to immigration.

"We are going to be a fully-independent, sovereign country, a country that is no longer part of a political union with supranational institutions that can override national parliaments and courts. And that means we are going, once more, to have the freedom to make our own decisions on a whole host of different matters, from how we label our food to the way in which we choose to control immigration."
Theresa May, Party Conference speech, 2 October 2016[15]

You have repeatedly insisted the UK must leave the ECJ’s remit altogether and “take back control” of every aspect of UK law. You say the aim is to retain the “same benefits” as we enjoy as EU members, including the same level of access for financial services and other service sectors, while ending any role whatsoever for the ECJ.

"So we will take back control of our laws and bring an end to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in Britain."
Theresa May, Lancaster House speech, 17 January 2017[16]

"Our laws will be made not in Brussels but in Westminster. The judges interpreting those laws will sit not in Luxembourg but in courts in this country. The authority of EU law in Britain will end... [W]e are not leaving only to return to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice."
Theresa May, Conservative Party conference speech, 2 October 2016[17]

David Davis has even suggested the Court will not play a role during a transition period, and that its jurisdiction will come to a complete end in March 2019.

"I mean firstly in 2019 we will leave. We’ll come out from under the – the jurisdiction and the law-making of the European Union."
David Davis, BBC Andrew Marr Show, 24 September 2017[18] 

One of your key aims in ending the role of the ECJ has been to end free movement of people. You have pledged that this will happen in March 2019.

"Free movement will end in March 2019."
No 10 spokesman, 31 July 2017[19]

 

6. Continuation of all EU trade deals and new deals ready to come into force

Your Government has committed to converting the 40 or so trade deals we currently enjoy with more than 65 countries around the world into new, bespoke deals, ready to sign on exit day in March 2019.

“When we leave the European Union, it is the intention of the Department for International Trade to carry over the existing trade deals that we enjoy through our membership of the European Union.” Mark Garnier, House of Commons, 23 March 2017[20]

Indeed, Liam Fox has promised that all 40 free trade agreements will be ready to sign “one second after midnight” on the day Britain leaves.

"I hear people saying 'oh we won't have any [free trade agreements] before we leave'. Well believe me we'll have up to 40 ready for one second after midnight in March 2019."
Liam Fox, Conservative Party conference fringe event, 2 October 2017[21]

Ministers have been absolutely clear that the UK will have an independent trade policy immediately after Brexit. In fact, David Davis has pledged that a raft of new trade deals will be fully negotiated by the time Britain leaves the EU at the end of the Article 50 negotiations, and will come into force “at the point of exit from the EU”.

"I would expect the new Prime Minister on September 9th to immediately trigger a large round of global trade deals with all our most favoured trade partners. I would expect that the negotiation phase of most of them to be concluded within between 12 and 24 months. So within two years, before the negotiation with the EU is likely to be complete, and therefore before anything material has changed, we can negotiate a free trade area massively larger than the EU.”
David Davis, 14 July 2016[22]

“Now the new trade agreements will come into force at the point of exit from the EU, but they will be fully negotiated and therefore understood in detail well before then.”
David Davis, 14 July 2016[23]

The same pledge has also been made by Boris Johnson, who said during the referendum campaign that the UK could negotiate “a large number of trade deals at great speed”, and suggested that this could be done before we have left the EU.

“If the “Leave” side wins, it will indeed be necessary to negotiate a large number of trade deals at great speed. But why should that be impossible? … We will have at least two years in which the existing treaties will be in force.”

Boris Johnson, The Telegraph, 16 March 2016[24]

 

[1] https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/the-governments-negotiating-objectives-for-exiting-the-eu-pm-speech

[2] https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/pms-florence-speech-a-new-era-of-cooperation-and-partnership-between-the-uk-and-the-eu

[3] https://ec.europa.eu/commission/sites/beta-political/files/joint_report.pdf

[4] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-politics-36587809

[5] http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/european-union-committee/scrutiny-of-brexit-negotiations/oral/69311.pdf

[6] http://uk.businessinsider.com/david-davis-says-a-new-uk-eu-trade-deal-can-be-finished-in-12-months-2017-10

[7] http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/shared/bsp/hi/pdfs/10121703.pdf

[8] https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/oct/23/brexit-transition-period-final-eu-trade-deal-theresa-may

[9] https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/the-governments-negotiating-objectives-for-exiting-the-eu-pm-speech

[10] https://www.theyworkforyou.com/debates/?id=2016-12-19b.1176.9&s=theresa+may#g1181.0

[11] https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/the-governments-negotiating-objectives-for-exiting-the-eu-pm-speech

[12] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/09/15/boris-johnsons-10-point-plan-successful-brexit/

[13] https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/we-will-not-pay-brussels-to-access-markets-says-no-10-2mlk6s7wb

[14] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-britain-eu-financials/uk-will-not-pay-eu-for-access-to-financial-services-market-pm-mays-spokesman-idUSKBN1F0256?utm_source=34553&utm_medium=partner

[15] http://press.conservatives.com/post/151239411635/prime-minister-britain-after-brexit-a-vision-of

[16] https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/the-governments-negotiating-objectives-for-exiting-the-eu-pm-speech

[17] http://press.conservatives.com/post/151239411635/prime-minister-britain-after-brexit-a-vision-of

[18] http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/shared/bsp/hi/pdfs/24091701.pdf

[19] https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/politics/theresa-underlines-free-movement-end-10907954

[20] https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2017-03-23/debates/BD9748DE-0860-46EF-8AA9-2D94EB971EE4/DEPARTMENTFORINTERNATIONALTRADE

[21] http://uk.businessinsider.com/liam-fox-promises-to-sign-40-free-trade-deals-the-second-after-brexit-2017-10

[22] https://www.conservativehome.com/platform/2016/07/david-davis-trade-deals-tax-cuts-and-taking-time-before-triggering-article-50-a-brexit-economic-strategy-for-britain.html

[23] https://www.conservativehome.com/platform/2016/07/david-davis-trade-deals-tax-cuts-and-taking-time-before-triggering-article-50-a-brexit-economic-strategy-for-britain.html

[24] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/opinion/2016/03/16/boris-johnson-exclusive-there-is-only-one-way-to-get-the-change/