Over the past fortnight a pick-and-mix of government ministers have delivered a series of speeches under the banner of ‘the Road to Brexit’. Today it was the PM’s turn. And far from the pancake-smooth autobahn that Liam Fox and Boris Johnson described in their own speeches, Theresa May described a road pockmarked with potholes and roadworks. She admitted that ‘our access to each other’s markets will be less’, for example, and that ECJ rulings will continue to apply here, at least temporarily.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise. First because this approach was trailed by the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg here. But also, as the Guardian's Andrew Sparrow writes at 09.20 here, because the PM has often been criticised for being too blasé about the complexity of Brexit, and about the trade-offs it'll involve. She’s right to confront that criticism, or at least appear as if she’s doing so.
It’s worth noting that Theresa May’s three best, most memorable and most effective speeches – the three speeches that did more than any others to position her as a leader – also focused on delivering hard truths.
First there was the ‘nasty party’ speech of 2004, which slapped her own party in the chops.
Then there was the Police Federation speech in 2014, in which she accused a hugely powerful group of ‘contempt for the public’ and developed her reputation for taking on vested interests.
Finally there was her speech outside Number 10 in 2016, her first speech as leader of the Conservative Party, which attracted significant praise for its radicalism – and for the fact that it was short and to the point. The beginning of today’s speech strongly echoed this rhetoric.
Today’s Mansion House speech wasn't bad. It was a meaningful contribution to the Brexit process and had some tasty turns of phrase. And although it probably won’t join that group of career high points, it was interesting to see the PM reverting back to the realistic, this-is-how-it-is tone that has worked so well for her in the past.
The question is whether it’ll work as well today, when she spoke not as an upstart, not as an insurgent, but as Prime Minister – a Prime Minister who, on the road to Brexit, hauls behind her the collected weight of 18 tough months in Downing Street.