Beyond Theresa May’s speech, there are still trust issues

To bridge the gap between the two sides in Brexit talks, a key challenge for the government is getting the EU to trust them.

Theresa May delivers the latest version of her Brexit vision in Florence today. The Guardian has a good report outlining what we can expect from the speech including an initial offer on money – one of three key issues for the EU in the Withdrawal Agreement along with citizens’ rights and the Irish border. She is also expected to confirm the UK’s desire for a transition period. The government hopes the speech will help to lift the stalemate in negotiations.

It’s unclear whether it will but we shouldn’t have too long to wait to find out. Channel 4 News’ Michael Crick was told that Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, will respond within 15 minutes of the prime minister’s speech. And The Times reports May outlined the main points in the speech to EU president Jean-Claude Juncker last night so Barnier will likely have had a heads up.

Yesterday, Barnier gave a speech to members of the Italian parliament reiterating the EU’s objectives for negotiations. If you haven’t already seen it, it’s worth a read – particularly with May’s planned speech in mind. From what’s reported about her speech, it’s clear there are still differences between the two sides.

To bridge the gap between those differences, a challenge for May is gaining the EU’s trust. For instance, on citizens’ rights, the EU wants the European Court of Justice to be the “ultimate guarantor”. However, the UK rejects this saying that it wants UK courts to play that role. The Financial Times reports the prime minister will give more assurances about citizens’ rights by making the “relevant terms of the exit treaty directly enforceable in UK courts.”

But will that be enough to reassure the EU to agree? Barnier has previously indicated that the government was making it difficult for the EU to trust the UK. In a joint press conference with Brexit secretary David Davis after the third round of Brexit talks, Barnier said that uncertainty over citizens’ rights and the financial settlement showed that trust still needed to be built. He added: “With such uncertainty, how can we build trust and start discussing a future relationship?”

And in his speech yesterday, Barnier noted the deportation letters mistakenly sent to EU citizens by the Home Office. He also noted the recent reports of home secretary Amber Rudd’s defiance of a court order. You can understand why the EU may have trouble trusting the UK government’s word when it doesn’t even seem to comply with its own laws.

Our citizens have real concerns today – which we share – when the Home Office sends deportation letters or appears to defy High Court orders, as we read in the press.

Michel Barnier, EU chief Brexit negotiator

For the government to get the EU to budge on anything, it’s going to have to work harder to build their trust.

Image: © Twocoms /
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