The country should now unite behind Theresa May’s clear and positive vision of post-Brexit Britain

The country should now unite behind Theresa May’s clear and positive vision of post-Brexit Britain

For a political speech, the longer the wait and the more impressive the billing, the greater the risk of disappointment. The Prime Minister’s speech, on her approach to Brexit, ran all those risks. We have waited months (some would say decades) for a clear set piece plan from a Prime Minister on how we will leave the EU. This speech was billed as the answer. It did not disappoint.

The speech provided a crystal clear strategy for how we are to leave the EU, but it did more than that. The Prime Minister set out a bold vision for national renewal: a reinvigorated, globally-trading and United Kingdom. Her critics said they wanted to know what Brexit means. Now we know and it’s one of the most detailed and positive visions for our country’s future to be made in decades.

So what is this vision?

First, the Government will fully respect the referendum result to leave the EU. We will not seek to remain in large parts of it subject to the European Court. We will take back control of our borders and immigration. We will not pay significant sums into the EU Budget. The British people and Parliament will be in charge of our own laws and trade policy.

Having taken back control, the Prime Minister has set out a clear vision: we are to be a globally-trading and prosperous UK. We have already seen numerous economic forecasters put their new found faith in post-Brexit Britain. The deficit is down, unemployment is down and economic growth is up. On cue, the pound rose rapidly throughout the speech.

We have already had approaches from the United States, Canada, India, Australia, Switzerland and many more to conclude trade agreements and ease our passage back into the global trading system we did so much to create. This lays the foundation for our future prosperity and a new international system of free trade and self-government.

This was also a vision for fairness at home. A fair immigration system that works for all the people in the country while still attracting the brightest and best to our shores. A Britain that co-operates where it is in our interests on science and technology. A fair Britain where existing EU employment rights are guaranteed, and their superior UK counterparts are built on. A fair, globally-trading, self-confident Britain – these are principles we can all get behind.

As well as setting out broad principles, the speech also answered the Prime Minister’s critics’ demands for details. What was said was comprehensive. We are to leave the EU Internal Market and Customs Union. We will seek agreement to facilitate customs clearance and cooperation. We will seek a comprehensive trade agreement, believing this is in our and the European Union’s own best interests. The Prime Minister also set out details on the timing for Brexit, agreed within two years with the potential for a phased implementation after that date, answering concerns from UK and EU business.

The Prime Minister will seek a positive relationship with the EU and its members. We will remain in Europe so we will remain an important security and defence partner, seeking practical cooperation with EU police and criminal justice agencies. We wish to cooperate on granting EU citizens already resident in the UK rights on the basis of a reciprocal agreement for UK citizens. We will remain friends with the EU as those of us on the Leave side always said we should.

However, as you would expect from a Prime Minister who does detail, there was also a sensible and thought-through fall back plan. If the EU does not wish to conclude a trade agreement with us, we will fall back on the most favoured nation status the WTO would oblige the EU to grant us.  We have a plan A and a plan B.

This was a speech for the entirety of the UK: one that brings our nations together to respect the national decision. We wish to see that the powers returned to the UK are used to strengthen rather than divide us, and I also welcomed the commitment to take the special position of the Irish border and Common Travel Area into account.

There are positive signs that this vision will gain cross-party approval. The response of the Labour Party to the subsequent parliamentary statement was measured. Labour welcomed the commitment to a further parliamentary vote on the final agreement, something for which they had asked. Labour will now have time to reconcile its pro-EU and pro mass-immigration party establishment with its more sceptical voters, before the same voters have a chance to make their own decision. That leaves just the Liberal Democrats holding a flame for the EU institutions and EU integration. The SNP’s pro-EU sentiments have always seemed to me to be skin deep and better seen through the prism of Scottish nationalism.

In short, after many years of discussing Europe, there is now a new consensus: make Brexit a success. And the Conservative Party is united around it.