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Some thoughts about Theresa May’s Brexit Speech

A little over six months ago, the British people voted for change. […] That means more than negotiating our new relationship with the EU. It means taking the opportunity of this great moment of national change to step back and ask ourselves what kind of country we want to be.

It is not news that I have been in support of Leave for a long time, both on grounds that have to do with the situation in Southern Europe and grounds to do with the protectionism of the EU and how it affects the developing world. Being one of those people who would fight to keep foreign aid safe from the hands of an increasing number of detractors, and being someone really keen on the early British Empire, it is no surprise that my outlook would be much more liberal and internationalist than what is usually caricatured as the view of Leavers.
I was not in the least taken aback by seeing the same sentiments expressed by the Prime Minister in tones much more realistic than the Whiggish optimism of Dan Hannan and his lot. In fact, I could say that “I knew it” all along. What I can make no sense of is how Nigel Farage and his minions are seeing in the government’s plan a reflection of what they stand for. It just about overlaps at leaving the Single Market, which plenty of Remain voters are saying is the only way to actually deliver Brexit because otherwise you are just still in the EU but with no say in it, and why would you have not voted to remain in that case?

No, the Conservatives are not becoming UKIP-lite. I’ve seen more optimism about this speech from the people I know in the 48% than in the 52%. Many I know voted to remain not out of love for the EU but out of fear for the economy, and it seems a lot of them have been reassured by the current economic situation and are even excited about the possibilities for the future. I don’t see that many people who embody the caricature of the Remoaner who is trying to stop Brexit, and most of the really annoying behaviour I have seen is from a minority of insular Leave voters who seem not to want different opinions to exist and live in a tension to try and deliver the best possible deal for everyone in a situation where it’s impossible to make everybody happy by giving them what they want. And in a display of true leadership, like a benign but stern headmistress, Theresa May has politely told them to *censor*.

My answer is clear. I want this United Kingdom to emerge from this period of change stronger, fairer, more united and more outward-looking than ever before. I want us to be a secure, prosperous, tolerant country – a magnet for international talent and a home to the pioneers and innovators who will shape the world ahead.

This reminds me so much of Armitage’s argument that early modern nation states defined their identity around imperialism. In a post-colonial and globalised age, I can see the now classical principles of the Imperialism of Free Trade as having some heirs in the ways states are shaped by their international context, whether it is actual trade agreements, migration patterns, global businesses, international NGOs or supranational organisations. And in the many references to Britain’s internationalist past (including the emphasis on preserving the Union you would expect from a Conservative government) in the speech, it appears clear that they are conscious of this, and how personal it is for many people (there are too many stories of families separated by VISA requirements when us EU citizens get a lot of privileges just for being born in the right foreign country). This is a multicultural country and people have family all over the world: this speech runs contrary to the narrative that Brexit was driven by a hatred of the non-white-British.

I disagree with Theresa May on the collapse of the EU, although I understand that we come from opposing perspectives on this. She is trying to do the best for Britain, and so it makes sense that the EU should prosper. I’m trying to do the best for my inheritance. However, if the EU prospers and my properties become valuable again I’m fine with that, too. The fact remains that Britain was always too different a country to fit in with the continent. Different traditions of law, a different constitution and political system, a different religion even from the Protestant north…all the things that I love about the history of the country and why I want to get a PhD in Early Modern British history more than I want anything else in my life. I glow when I talk about any of these topics. I’ve cried in St Stephen’s Hall the first time I’ve been to the Houses of Parliament. I think I have reached all levels of embarrassment possibles at one time or another, and I can sing God Save The Queen but have no idea what any national hymn in my heritage is like. I can also dance at a ceilidh and sing Auld Lang Syne, but I digress…

Her view of the EU in the context of British tradition is very reasonable, although possibly something that should have been thought of at the very beginning of their relationship with the EU, which was clearly going to go towards the ever closer union that sits so poorly with so many who were happy to embrace the Common Market back in the day. However, it’s no use crying over spilled milk so we’re in it now, we’ll get out of it now, we’ll do the best with our current circumstances.

As a person who has been described as someone whose biggest gift is being proactive I can’t but admire this not positive, exactly, but not negative either approach. It’s a very pragmatic way of dealing with circumstances which are partly beyond anyone’s control. It also seems to me an approach deeply founded on the principles of Catholic Social Teachings that were at the core of the project EU when it first started in the post-war years. Her aims set out in the 12 objectives of the speech are ambitious, but driven by a desire to achieve the best outcome for everyone, and unless the EU decides to cut their noses off to spite their face a lot of it can become reality. They are good objectives, not just those that mean my rights will remain intact. The emphasis on the rights of the people being protected in UK law when EU law is repealed is very welcome too, not because I’ve ever doubted it but because it’s black and white for all the alarmists to see.

This is not a game or a time for opposition for opposition’s sake. It is a crucial and sensitive negotiation that will define the interests and the success of our country for many years to come. And it is vital that we maintain our discipline.

That is why I have said before – and will continue to say – 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.

I am one of Generation Cameron, a number of young people who became actively involved in the party because of David Cameron and am proud to be his legacy, whatever my future involvement with the party will be like. However, I am proud of having Theresa May as our leader more and more every day, and I love the idea that if I ever have a daughter she’ll grow up to see her example of womanhood in power (seen the article about her love of fashion and how it doesn’t make you any less good at your job?).

So that is what we will do. Not merely forming a new partnership with Europe, but building a stronger, fairer, more Global Britain too.

And let that be the legacy of our time. The prize towards which we work. The destination at which we arrive once the negotiation is done.

And let us do it not for ourselves, but for those who follow. For the country’s children and grandchildren too.

So that when future generations look back at this time, they will judge us not only by the decision that we made, but by what we made of that decision.

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