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Brexit: Theresa May between the lines

Did the frescos of the Santa Maria Novella inspire Theresa May? The speech on Brexit that she delivered on 22nd September in Florence undeniably marked a change in tone and indicated a new British attitude in the negotiations opened by Michel Barnier on behalf of the European Union.

Concerned about the initial impact of an exit from the Union on the British economy, the Prime Minister opened a door to certain compromises whilst not shifting one iota as to the final outcome. If we are to understand the exercise we have to read between the lines and compare them with the main differences that have emerged during the negotiations:

The European citizens living in the UK would be offered the same guarantees as today via a specific bill taking up the jurisprudence of the Unionís Court of Justice, which would rule over the British courts.

The UK is now prepared to pay, not only its commitments, but also during a transition period, to maintain access to the Single Market, and even beyond that, to remain in the generous programmes covering education, research, science, European defence and security programmes. Hence, this will guarantee the satisfactory completion of the ongoing European budget until 2020 and indicates its financial participation in several programmes of common interest post-Brexit.

The British are requesting a two-year transition period after March 2019 to avoid the damaging effects of their exit from Customs Union, thereby illustrating the importance of the Single Market of which they manifestly wish to remain members for as long as possible.

T. May is also proposing an agreement on security that might be timely in terms of improving the fight to counter terrorism, which would imply the participation of her country in Europol, Eurojust, the European Defence Agency etc.

Finally, she deems that the definition of future relations between the two entities can now start, since negotiations have advanced enough, which is not the opinion of the Union.

Because the position over the final outcome has not moved an inch ñ true separation ñ she is worried as many others are about its impact and is demanding a specific status for the UK. However, it is extremely difficult to imagine this from a technical point of view. Not wanting either a Swiss or Norwegian status, she imagines that the importance of her country allows her to call on the ìcreativenessî of the European Union to offer her, once again, something special.

It is perhaps here that the greatest gulf emerges between the British and European vision of things. The European Union is a political whole, which is written in the treaties that created specific law, which is neither common international law nor the national law of the Member States. Being part of it implies recognising European law, not belonging to it means referring to general international law. One cannot play on both levels, notably regarding the interpretation of European law, which can only be the responsibility of the communityís institutions. If you want to deal with the Union, you have to apply its rules. And this is vital for the security and also the health of consumers, the status of its citizens and financial regulation.Accepting exceptions would weaken from within the legal protection ñ the most complete in the world - of European citizens and would also give rise to counterclaims on the part of third States with whom the Union has already made agreements.

These proposals do however reflect a new attitude. They must now be turned into reality in the shape of proposals in the negotiations that are starting again on 25th September, which has not been the case to date. They reveal a certain amount of embarrassment and, in all likelihood, concern on the part of the British population, which is being expressed more and more openly.

There are also a great deal of contradictions. Did T. May not dare to say in her speech: "When we work together, we can do great things"? Of course! So, why leave in the first place? To respect to the letter the opinion of an increasingly divided British population? Doesnít the grandeur of political leaders firstly lie in protecting the superior interests of their nation, whatever the circumstances or mood? Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who was however an eulogist of direct democracy, put his finger on this problem as he wrote: ìthe people is never corrupted, but it is often deceived Ö.î It is difficult to turn back on a popular vote, but it is possible to explain that it can be implemented in different ways. To do this one has to rise to the highest level of duty to the State and not obey that of one of his party! Theresa May seems to have made a small step in this direction. We need her to take it bit further still!