l. to r.: A. Merkel, D. Trump, T. May, J. Trudeau
After Theresa May drew praise from Brexiteers and Remainers with her Mansion House speech, she gave MPs an adapted repeat performance this afternoon with her statement to the Commons on her desired “UK-EU future economic partnership”. The Prime Minister gave an upbeat picture of how negotiations are going, telling MPs that the British “are close to an agreement” on the terms of Britain’s transition and that she was “confident we can resolve our remaining differences in the days ahead”. Tory MPs were buoyed again by her speech, with Anna Soubry praising her “frankness”, while Iain Duncan Smith urged her to bear in mind that “cake exists to be eaten and cherries to be picked”. Peter Bone popped up to ask Mrs May if she found it “disconcerting that she is the first Conservative Prime Minister to be able to unite these benches on Europe”. The Prime Minister expressed pleasure about her “united” party, but how well will that last over the coming months? Mrs May was watched by “our Canadian friends” (as John Bercow introduced them) as she took questions from MPs. These spectators were politicians from the cross-party Canada-UK and Canada-Europe Parliamentary Groups, who are learning about Brexit as part of their fact-finding visit to the UK and Ireland. Their presence was appropriately timed, given that the EU may be set to outline its preference tomorrow for a future trading relationship with the UK inspired by Canada. EU sources have explained to the Telegraph that their guidelines will show what they think is “feasible” given Mrs May’s red lines, indicating that they could change if she backs down on any area. The Prime Minister made clear her aversion towards pursuing just a Canadian-style future last week, declaring at Mansion House that it would not give “the breadth or depth of market access” desired – i.e. financial services wouldn’t be covered – and “would mean a significant reduction in our access to each other’s markets”.She added that “it is hard to see how it would be in the EU’s interests for the UK’s regulatory standards to be as different as Canada’s.” However, she did tell MPs this afternoon that she is looking at many international borders for possible solutions to the Irish border question, including the one between the US and Canada. “Our Canadian friends” may have more of an influence on Brexit than Mrs May makes out.