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Credit Theresa May With Some Guts

Map showing the member states of the European Union (clickable)

When the US was obsessing about the then-still-not-exactly President Trump and his tweets about Congressman John Lewis, I tuned it out, and tuned in instead to the politics of the Mother Country.

The Bank of England's Governor Mark Carney on Jan. 15 said that the country's consumer spending has held up well since the Brexit referendum, a fact that seems to have surprised him. Consumers are "entirely looking through Brexit-related uncertainties." Stiff upper lips and all that?

More important, Prime Minister May gave an important address about the direction her government will take in executing the UK's exit from the EU.

There have been talk of a so-called "soft Brexit," which would presumably entail retaining many of the benefits of membership in the EU while throwing off the liabilities. The leaders of other European nations had made clear their displeasure at that idea, and there developed a consensus that it wasn't going to happen. May acknowledged in the speech January 16 that it wasn't, and said that the soft Brexit isn't a goal of her government. The referendum last year mandated an exit, and she is going to take that as meaning what it sounds like it means.

In her words, "both sides in the referendum campaign made it clear that a vote to leave the EU would be a vote to leave the single market." So Britain will not "seek to hold on to bits of membership as we leave."

As to the transition, she said there will be a "phased process of implementation" and that the government will work to avoid a "disruptive cliff edge." Much depends on the particulars of negotiations, and those negotiations haven't begun yet.

It was a good speech, and May might prove more of a leader than she has yet appeared.

But ... I'm not sure she's taking the best approach for her country.  No, I'm not a subject of Her Majesty and PM May could well tell me to MYOB. Still ... it is the case that European Union membership is not a binary matter. There are after all some countries that have managed an a la carte half-membership: Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway. Is May foreclosing the possibility of telling the core Euro leaders in negotiations, "we want the same deal Norway has! not just during a transition, but as the goal of a transition." If she is foreclosing that: why?


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