Tuesday’s Brexit speech by British Prime Minister Theresa May is proof that leadership genes may indeed be transferable from one political generation to another.
Perhaps more so than any of the particulars of Prime Minister May’s plan, what she said in her address provided the United Kingdom something it had been lacking since the June 23 Brexit referendum: clarity.
Channeling the no-nonsense demeanor of Margaret Thatcher and with a boldness that would have made Winston Churchill proud, Prime Minister May declared in strong, unambiguous terms that she will offer Parliament the opportunity to enable the U.K. to regain control over its future relative to immigration policy and its own laws, even if it means sacrificing the free movement of goods and workers between the U.K. and the European Union.
As outlined in her speech, Ms. May’s vision for the U.K. is as an independent, outward-looking nation that will seek to forge a network of bilateral free trade agreements around the globe. That includes, importantly, the EU, but as equal partners — nothing more, nothing less.
“Not partial membership of the European Union, associate membership of the European Union, or anything that leaves us half-in, half-out. We do not seek to adopt a model already enjoyed by other countries. We do not seek to hold on to bits of membership as we leave,” she said.
As the U.K. pursues its “divorce” from the EU, it appears that Ms. May is putting significant emphasis on preserving or further strengthening the bonds between the U.K. and its former colony, the United States. As a Christmas present to U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, the prime minister gave a copy of a historic speech delivered by Prime Minister Churchill to Americans on Christmas Eve 1941; she wrote in an accompanying letter, “I think the sentiment he expressed – of a sense of unity and fraternal association between the United Kingdom and United States – is just as true today as it has ever been.”
For his part, Mr. Trump (whose mother, Mary Anne MacLeod Trump, was born and grew up in Scotland) has described the U.K. as a “very special” ally.
Notably, in her speech Tuesday, Prime Minister May said the U.K. would reserve the right to cut corporate taxes and change its economic strategy if the EU tries to freeze the U.K. out of the European economy. That would, in effect, make the U.K. an “offshore financial center” (well, more so than it already is, particularly the City of London).
Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn’s reaction is telling (and predictable). He said, “Theresa May has made clear that she is determined to use Brexit to turn Britain into a bargain-basement tax haven on the shores of Europe.” While Mr. Corbyn was no doubt attempting to send a chill of fear through his listeners, to us his remarks spark a thrill of hope for the U.K.’s economic prospects.
While it is far too soon for anyone to predict what effect Ms. May’s Brexit proposal may have on British Overseas Territories, including the Cayman Islands, we feel comfortable making the general observation that the best thing for Cayman is a strong Britain, and a strong prime minister.
Before any of the prime minister’s assertions become reality, Parliament has to consider the proposal and vote on it. However, seven months following the Brexit vote, Ms. May has finally provided Parliament with a substantive decision to make.
Whether or not U.K. lawmakers approve the plan, amend it or reject it outright, Prime Minister May has performed her duty, demonstrated her strength of leadership and left no room for ambiguity on where she stands.
While there are opportunities for earnest, backroom bargaining during complex negotiations like Brexit, when a leader stands before her people and stakes out an opening position, waffling is weakness and clarity is strength.
In a time when the U.K. is particularly in need of strong leadership, Prime Minister May – unlike her predecessor David Cameron – has risen to the occasion to meet the demands of history.