There is a recognizable repetition in British Prime Minister Theresa May’s speeches about the decision to leave the EU: “Brexit means Brexit,” making “a success of it” and getting “the best deal” for Britain are some of her stump phrases.
However, a closer look at her speeches suggests her position on key aspects of Brexit has evolved since she took office in the aftermath of the June 23 vote to leave.
Alongside comments by ministers in her Conservative government, the changes appear to suggest that May has shifted from favoring a “hard Brexit” — a clean break with the EU single market — to supporting continued membership.
May has declined to say whether she wants Britain to remain in the single market.
Her aides say she is considering all options.
Since July 13, when May made her first speech as prime minister, subtle changes have emerged in the way she describes her priorities for talks with the EU. Those talks will determine Britain’s future and that of the EU.
Early on in her tenure, May said little more than that she wanted “the right deal” or “best possible deal” on the trade of goods and services with the rest of Europe, which account for more than 50 percent of the British economy.
However, at the Conservative Party conference in October she unveiled a more specific phrase to describe her aims for Brexit.
“I want it to give British companies the maximum freedom to trade with and operate within the single market — and let European businesses do the same here,” May said.
Richard North, a former speechwriter for several euroskeptic lawmakers, says the phrase “operate within” is telling.
“She is very, very precise and there is no way that she is saying anything other than she’s going after the single market within a negotiated settlement,” said North, who wants Britain to remain a member of the broader European Economic Area trading zone after leaving the EU.
In her Oct. 2 speech to the Conservative Party, she dismissed the choice between a “soft Brexit” and “hard Brexit” as a “false dichotomy” and said Britain could regain control over immigration and its sovereignty while continuing cooperation on security and trade.
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