Theresa May's Brexit Speech: Key points for CAs

By Andrew Harbison, CA Today

18 January 2017

Prime Minister Theresa May has laid out the 12 objectives the Government will be focusing on throughout Brexit negotiations during a much-anticipated speech yesterday.

Standing in front of a banner which read ‘Global Britain’, the Prime Minister began her speech at Lancaster House by saying the British people “voted to leave the European Union and embrace the world”.

This outward looking global sentiment ran through the entirety of Theresa May’s speech, with a particular focus on “building relationships with old friends and new allies alike”.

Anton Colella, Chief Executive of ICAS, commented: “A 12-point plan from the PM helps to start fill in the gaps, but there is still an ocean of answers required by British business. 

"The calculation we are all trying to make is – will my business be better or worse off after Brexit? The answer to that will still be elusive in most British boardrooms.”

Here are some key points from the speech.

Exit from the single market

This was one of the headline announcements expected to come out of the speech. With full control over immigration and autonomy from the European court of justice impossible while remaining a member of the single market, the Prime Minister made it clear that the only option was for the UK to leave it.

However, she announced that she would “seek the greatest possible access to it” by negotiating free trade agreements with the remaining EU member states.

She went on to say that she wants to ensure that relations between the UK and the EU remain amicable, and that any member states attempting to pursue a bad trade deal to punish Britain would be “an act of calamitous self-harm for the countries of Europe, and it would not be the act of a friend”.

A vote on the final Brexit deal

Perhaps speaking directly to commentators who have criticised the perceived lack of clarity surrounding the Government's Brexit strategy, the Prime Minister said providing “as much certainty and clarity as we can” was one of its key objectives.

To offer certainty to the British people, Theresa May announced that the Government “will put the final deal that is agreed between the UK and the EU to a vote in both Houses of Parliament, before it comes into force".

During a Q&A session with the media after the speech, the Prime Minister was asked if the UK would stay in the EU if MPs decided to vote against the final deal. She responded by saying that she is sure parliament “will want to deliver on the views of the British people and respect the democratic decision that was taken".

Immigrants ‘still welcome’

The Prime Minister made it clear that although the controls on immigration numbers would be tightened post-Brexit, immigrants would still be welcome.

She said: “We will continue to attract the brightest and the best to work or study in Britain - indeed openness to international talent must remain one of this country’s most distinctive assets - but that process must be managed properly so that our immigration system serves the national interest.”

The ability to hire EU nationals in a post-Brexit Britain was the number one priority for UK finance directors, according to the Finance Directors’ Survey 2016 commissioned by The CA magazine. 

A focus by the Prime Minister on “high-skilled immigration’ may speak directly to the concerns of CFOs.

Don’t expect a “blow-by-blow” of the negotiation strategy

Rounding off her speech, the Prime Minister addressed the “frustration” which may be felt at the lack of information released by the Government on its Brexit negotiation strategy.

She said: “But those who urge us to reveal more - such as the blow-by-blow details of our negotiating strategy, the areas in which we might compromise, the places where we think there are potential trade-offs - will not be acting in the national interest.”

Mirroring comments she made last week apparently blaming the media for the slump in the value of the pound, Mrs May continued by saying “that every stray word and every hyped up media report is going to make it harder for us to get the right deal for Britain".

Have your say 

ICAS is looking to its members for their opinions on Brexit. As leaders in business, finance and politics, the voices of CAs need to be heard now more than ever. Get in touch with ICAS to share your views, stories and opinions on Brexit and beyond.

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