Rarely has a speech been more heavily trailed than that which Theresa May will give today at the Church of Santa Maria Novella in the Italian city of Florence (it’s in the middle of town just across from the station). And rarely has our free and fearless press hyped a speech more heavily, and, it has to said, with no rational expectation of success. And so few people who really matter will be there to hear it.
The headlines demonstrate the delusion of those who scrabble around the dunghill that is Grubstreet, with the Express in the vanguard, telling readers of “MAY’S VISION FOR BREXIT VICTORY … Britain’s future is bright, says Prime Minister”. Those engaging brain first, like the i with a matter-of-fact “May offers €20 billion divorce deal to Europe”, and the FT - also trying to remain factual and grounded - with “May offers to shore up EU citizen rights in bid to break stalemate”, are being drowned out by the lack of realism.
Because shouting rather louder are the likes of the Telegraph, sniffily lecturing those ghastly foreigners with “May: It is EU’s duty to agree a Brexit deal”, and especially the Mail, which thunders “PM’S BOLD BID TO END BREXIT DEADLOCK … Upbeat May sets out her plan for cash deal to secure two-year EU goodbye”.
Once again, the Vision and Boundless Hope and Optimism is wonderful to behold. But it bears little relation to the reality of the situation. Yes, the optimism chimes with the idea - peddled incessantly by the Murdoch press - that the brave and bold Empress Theresa will appeal to the leaders of EU member states over the heads of Jean-Claude Juncker and Michel Barnier. But I have to tell those doing the peddling that it isn’t going to happen.
The BBC, which has seen the same pre-released excerpts from the PM’s speech, noted that she “will propose a two-year transitional deal, after March 2019, ahead of a permanent trade deal … It could include payments worth 20bn euros (£18bn) over the two years”. Note use of “could”. Ms May is not, apparently, going to make any firm offer.
Once again, the right-leaning part of the Fourth Estate invests Theresa May with abilities she does not possess. Moreover, there will be no appealing over the heads of the negotiators in Brussels: whatever she proposes will be forwarded to M Barnier for him and his team to consider. They will be waiting for the UK delegation to arrive for another round of talks next week, and will still be wanting us to say what we want.
There will be nothing gained from patronising EU negotiators and heads of state with talk of how it is “their duty” to agree a deal. Optimism will not address the outstanding issues which have yet to be addressed - EU citizens’ rights, the totality of the “divorce bill”, the status of Northern Ireland, for instance - and without which, there can be no move to talking about trade agreements, or indeed agreeing a transitional deal.
Unless Theresa May has a very large rabbit in that hat, her trip to Florence, and the speech she gives there, will be yet another pointless act. The only way the deadlock will be broken is by negotiation, and that means fewer showpiece events for domestic consumption, and rather more effort applied by the team in Brussels.
Stop flannelling and get to the specifics. Or don’t bother turning up next week.