News

Here’s what May’s Salzburg post mortem really meant

Chief political commentator

What Theresa May said: Yesterday, I was in Salzburg for talks with European leaders.

What she really meant: Yesterday, I was insulted by European leaders.

What she said: The EU is still only offering us two options. The first option would involve the UK staying in the European Economic Area and a customs union with the EU. In plain English, we would still have to abide by all the EU rules. Uncontrolled immigration would continue. And we couldn’t do trade deals we want with other countries. That would make a mockery of the referendum we had two years ago.

What she meant: Can you Adam and Eve it? The EU said there were only two options two years ago, and it looks as if they mean it.

What she said: The second option would be a basic free trade agreement for Great Britain that would introduce checks at the Great Britain/EU border. But even worse, Northern Ireland would effectively remain in the customs union and parts of the single market, permanently separated economically from the rest of the UK by a border down the Irish Sea. Parliament has already unanimously rejected this idea.

What she meant: They are disrespecting me.

What she said: Creating any form of customs border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK would not respect that Northern Ireland is an integral part of the UK, in line with the principle of consent, as set out clearly in the Good Friday Agreement. It is something I would never agree to. Indeed, in my judgement it is something no British prime minister would ever agree to. If the EU believe I will, they are making a fundamental mistake.

What she meant: The sacred Good Friday Agreement cuts both ways. It means a lot of all-Ireland stuff to placate the nationalists but it also means a lot of unionist rhetoric to keep the other lot happy, which I am going to emphasise.

What she said: Anything which fails to respect the referendum or which effectively divides our country in two would be a bad deal, and I have always said no deal is better than a bad deal.

What she meant: There is a third option, you know: leaving without a deal – and that would mean a hard border in Ireland. See how the Irish prime minister likes that.

What she said: Yesterday Donald Tusk said our proposals would undermine the single market. He didn’t explain how in any detail, or make any counter proposal. So we are at an impasse.

What she meant: I thought he was on our side but it turns out he too really means all that federalist nonsense that I thought they were paying lip service to.

What she said: Neither side should demand the unacceptable of the other.

What she meant: When I agreed the backstop plan for an open border in Ireland, I knew it was ambiguous and that clarifying the ambiguity would be unacceptable to one side or the other. I was hoping the EU wouldn’t notice.

What she said: Throughout this process I have treated the EU with nothing but respect. The UK expects the same.

What she meant: Yeah, the referendum was a bit of a slap in the face for the EU, but there’s no need to take it out on me. I was a Remainer, you know. Give us a break.

What she said: So we now need to hear from the EU. Until we do, we cannot make progress.

What she meant: Well, actually they need to hear from us about our new proposal on the Irish border that I have promised, despite insisting the ball is in their court, but there’s no need for them to get all impatient and rude.

What she said: I want to reassure the people of Northern Ireland that in the event of no deal, we will do everything in our power to prevent a return to a hard border.

What she meant: A hard border as the result of a no-deal Brexit won’t be our fault. Vote DUP.

What she said: I have worked to bring people with me even when that has not always seemed possible.

What she meant: It didn’t seem possible and it wasn’t. David Davis and Boris Johnson resigned. But they were unreasonable. Trust me when I say I can bring Barnier, Tusk, Juncker, Merkel and Macron with me.

What she said: No one wants a good deal more than me. But the EU should be clear. I will not overturn the results of the referendum, nor will I break up my country. We need serious engagement on resolving the two big problems in the negotiations. And we stand ready.

What she meant: I will cave in after the Conservative Party conference.