Will May’s speech be a transformative one, putting the two sides on course for a quick and exceptional deal or will it be a dud? Here are seven major EU speeches that shaped the narrative around EU relations for years.
1. The Bloomberg Speech (2013)
One cannot discuss major EU speeches without discussing David Cameron’s famous Bloomberg speech in which he called for a renegotiated UK-EU deal, as well as an in-out referendum.
According to the New Statesman, then Prime Minister David Cameron said:
“And when we have negotiated that new settlement, we will give the British people a referendum with a very simple in or out choice. To stay in the EU on these new terms; or come out altogether.
It will be an in-out referendum.”
2. Margaret Thatcher’s Bruges Speech (1988)
During the final years of her premiership, then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher made a passionate speech in Bruges, rejecting the EU’s moves towards further integration.
During the speech she said:
“Indeed, it is ironic that just when those countries such as the Soviet Union, which have tried to run everything from the centre, are learning that success depends on dispersing power and decisions away from the centre, there are some in the Community who seem to want to move in the opposite direction.
We have not successfully rolled back the frontiers of the state in Britain, only to see them re-imposed at a European level with a European super-state exercising a new dominance from Brussels.”
Source: Margaret Thatcher Foundation
3. Edward Heath’s European Economic Community Entry Speech (1973)
In 1970, Edward Heath’s Conservatives won a majority of the seats in the House of Commons. Heath was passionately pro-Europe, and soon took the United Kingdom into the European Economic Community, which would later evolve into the EU.
The country officially joined the Community on the 1st January 1973, which was followed by a big banquet speech by Prime Minister Heath about the future of Britain in Europe, during which he said:
“We’ve been accustomed, during these years and all these arguments, to hearing the Community described as the Common Market. I hope this is a habit, which we can now abandon.
“Certainly, the unified market is a matter of enormous significance, but it is only the first step, which will carry us well beyond the questions of tariffs and trade, for what we are building is a community, whose scope will gradually extend until it covers virtually the whole field of collective human endeavour.”
4. David Cameron’s post-referendum speech (2016)
It was a speech that confirmed the reality of Britain’s vote to leave the EU and led to a swift change in prime minister. It was also a reminder of how closely tied David Cameron was to the country’s decision to leave the Union.
On the steps of Downing Street, the morning after the UK opted to leave the EU, Cameron sealed his fate and ensured that Brexit would be his legacy.
According to the BBC, the then prime minister said:
“The British people have voted to leave the European Union, and their will must be respected. I want to thank everyone who took part in the campaign on my side of the argument, including all those who put aside party differences to speak in what they believed was the national interest. And let me congratulate all those who took part in the leave campaign, for the spirted and passionate case that they made. The will of the British people is an instruction that must be delivered.
5. John Major’s Maastricht Treaty Speech
The Maastricht Treaty is one of the EU’s most important documents as it transformed the European Economic Community into the European Union and paved the way for the European Parliament and Commission, as well as the single currency.
Following a European Council meeting in Maastricht in 1991, then Prime Minister spoke to the Commons and said:
“We wanted--and secured--a sensible enhancement of the role of the European Parliament. We did not accept the proposal made by other member states for a power of co-decision between the Parliament and the Council. As I told the House on 20 November, the Council of Ministers must be the body that ultimately determines the Community's laws and policies.”
6. Gordon Brown’s Five Tests
There was a time when it looked possible that Britain could join the Euro, something which seems absurd to think about now that the UK is walking out the EU’s door.
New Labour’s 1997 manifesto even pledged to hold a referendum on joining the Euro if the right conditions were met.
Upon becoming chancellor of the exchequer, Gordon Brown made a significant speech, outlining what conditions would need to be met if the UK were to ditch the pound for the Euro.
Brown said that:
“I now turn to the Treasury's detailed assessment of the five economic tests that define whether a clear and unambiguous case can be made.
1. Whether there can be sustainable convergence between Britain and the economies of a single currency.
2. Whether there is sufficient flexibility to cope with economic change.
3. The effect on investment.
4. The impact on our financial services industry.
5. Whether it is good for employment.”
7 Theresa May pulls the trigger
Almost a year after the UK voted to leave the EU, Prime Minister Theresa May triggered Article 50 by sending the EU, the UK’s notice of withdrawal.
Addressing the House of Commons in a landmark speech, she said:
“This is an historic moment from which there can be no turning back. Britain is leaving the European Union. We are going to make our own decisions and our own laws. We are going to take control of the things that matter most to us. And we are going to take this opportunity to build a stronger, fairer Britain – a country that our children and grandchildren are proud to call home. That is our ambition and our opportunity. That is what this government is determined to do.”
May's Florence speech
May's upcoming speech in Italy could be a make or break moment for EU negotiations. It could push forward the negotiations or it could be met with resistance from the EU. Whatever May ends up saying, it could be a pivotal moment in the UK's and Europe's futures.