Theresa May’s aim of free trade with the EU outside the single market is the way to avoid a hard border. The Irish should start lobbying their EU partners now.

We will put our precious Union at the heart of what we do.. We will strengthen our relationship between the four nations of the UK..   I hope for the same spirit of unity, especially in Northern Ireland and that the parties will establish a new relationship as soon as possible..  The devolved administrations will be fully engaged (in the Brexit process). That is why we have set up a joint ministerial committee..

We have received papers from Scotland and Wales… I look forward to working with the devolved Administrations to deliver a Brexit that works well for all the UK..

( With the Republic), maintaining the common travel area will be a priority to deliver a practical solution  as quickly as possible to the question of the land Border and freedom of movement with the Irish State. Nobody wants to return to the borders of the past,.

The family ties and bonds of affection that unite our two countries mean that there will always be a special relationship between us… Maintaining the common travel area with the Republic would be “an important part of the talks”.

That’s the rhetoric, what about the substance?

After the soft words about working with the devolved administrations, a sting in the tail.  While the right division of powers sent back from Brussels had to be made between Westminster on the one hand, and Holyrood, Cardiff Bay and  Stormont  on the other, and none of them would lose powers, “ new barriers should not be created within our own Union.”

This rules out some kind of associated status with the EU for Scotland and Northern Ireland – as  Nicola Sturgeon has noted, declaring  that “another vote on independence was “all but inevitable”. She believed that Scotland should be able to choose a “different future” to the one outlined by Mrs May. Sinn Fein and the SDLP  will not be pleased but they will hardly be surprised.

The big point Mrs May wants to get across is that leaving the single market and full membership of the customs union will be followed by a bespoke deal that means achieving the goal  of free trade not only with the EU but the rest  the world. It implies having her cake and eating it, a tall order she nevertheless seems to be going for. And she therefore  wants finally to put to rest the terms “Hard” or Soft “Brexit.”

This hasn’t prevented confusion from breaking out; for example Sinn Fein  quick on the draw declares it a Hard Brexit which creates a hard border on the island of Ireland whereas   Keir Starmer, the shadow  Brexit secretary has declared she has avoided a hard Brexit. Some of his Labour colleagues disagree.

Her aim of  a  “a completely new customs agreement” which might mean associated membership of the EU customs union or signing up to some elements of it is challenged by some as illegal under World Trade Organisation rules and requiring a free trade agreement with the EU by others. The latter is  surely is central to her purpose. “We want tariff free trade with the EU to be as frictionless as possible.”

However complete clarity remains elusive.   Ken Clarke veteran Europhile and former chancellor declared:

(Mrs May and the Brexit secretary David Davis speaking in the Commons)  were particularly confusing about what we are going to do about access to the single market and membership of the customs union. I listened to David Davis as well as Theresa May and I am none the wiser – and I don’t think either of them are either.

Ireland will welcome a transitional deal or “phased implementation”  as she puts it.  As the Irish Times reports, Dublin will have lots of  questions and will not take her assurances at face value.  But as these must also be addressed to their EU26 fellow members as well as the British, the logic of the British position and Irish interests alike  means they had better start lobbying  their partners  to strike a free trade deal with Britain..