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...in its January 17 editorial, excerpted below.
Good things come to those who wait. Theresa May’s excellent speech on Brexit was months in the making, but that time was well spent. Mrs May voted Remain, and needed time to think through all of the issues with experts, civil servants and her Cabinet before deciding exactly how to proceed. It is greatly to her credit that she has now developed such a clear and radical vision of a thriving post-Brexit Britain. Her optimistic global outlook – reminiscent of the upbeat, positive spirit of the Vote Leave campaign – will stand Britain in good stead in the negotiations to come. Her enthusiastic belief in Britain’s potential to be even greater satisfies the demand for a clear sense of direction; this was real leadership, of the sort we see all too rarely. It is no exaggeration to describe this speech as a defining moment in British politics, one that will one day be remembered in the same light as Lady Thatcher’s famous Bruges address, which launched the modern Eurosceptic movement.
The Prime Minister has a plan, and it is the right one: we will leave the single market and, in effect, the customs union, cooperate closely with our European allies on a range of issues and seek to be the world leader in free trade. We will remain a pro-immigration society but will choose who we want to move here. The plan represents a masterclass in common sense and is exactly what Britain voted for last June. Mrs May’s plan deserves support and will surely get it from most reasonable people. That is because it is rooted in confidence. Confidence about Britain and its prospects in a global economy. Confidence in this country’s ability to grow and prosper regardless of how EU negotiations conclude – crucially, the Prime Minister is willing to walk away from a bad deal and understands the strength of our bargaining position, unlike David Cameron.
Some will carp that Mrs May’s vision for a post-Brexit relationship with the EU is too optimistic, that her suggestions about access to the single market for key industries and a new customs-free deal amount to hoping to have our cake and eat it. In fact, Mrs May’s approach is absolutely right: global Britain should seek the freest possible trade with Europe while remaining free to strike trade deals with other economies, not least the US.
The plan is ambitious, and all the better for it. The doubters underestimate the strength of Britain’s hand. She was right to observe that trade makes everyone richer, so a sensible EU will seek the deal that allows the greatest possible trade between the EU and Britain. Yet Britain is more than a first-rank economy and trading partner. We are a first-rank military power and a world leader in intelligence. Those capabilities are of crucial importance to the EU, and its eastern members in particular, in a world where Donald Trump regrettably calls the Nato alliance into question. Mrs May was not so crude as to directly link British cooperation on security to Brexit negotiations, but security must be a dimension in those talks.
In time, EU leaders who bluster about punishing Britain for leaving will come to realise that it is in everyone’s interests to take a more constructive approach. Mrs May did not say it explicitly, but there was steel behind her words: Britain can be a good friend to the EU, or a bad enemy. And the EU today needs all the friends it can get.