Is PM heading for 'Florentine fudge' in Friday's Brexit speech?

Theresa may in Canada Image copyright AFP

Indulge me. Ahead of any major political intervention there are, I'm afraid, days of speculation - much of it pointless - about what might be said or not be said.

However, sometimes that speculation results in the giver of the speech saying, well, frankly not very much at all.

It is this possibility that has been sketched out to me today by several people familiar with some of the conversations around the Brexit speech Theresa May is due to give in Italy on Friday.

One speculated that we might be "heading for Florentine fudge", another that the PM might "almost comically say nothing at all".

This scenario may, of course, not come to pass. The speech is still changing; there may be many drafts yet. But here's how the theory goes.

Boris Johnson was so alarmed by what he suspected was a softening position on Brexit, on the transition and life outside, favoured by the chancellor and other ministers, that he picked up the phone to The Telegraph to make sure he and other Brexiteers' voices were heard. (This much we know, as I have written here.)

Theresa May, therefore, may feel that she has to harden that softer position (keep up!) to avoid embarrassing cabinet ructions and potentially resignations if she seems to be too lily-livered about life outside.

Potentially the speech is shorn, therefore, of anything tangible about our future relationship with the EU, and only has limited warm words about how we part company.

Those involved in actually trying to do the deal tear their hair out, as she falls short of saying anything significant that could unblock the talks' impasse.

The speech therefore fails to meet its objective and its significance is shot before she has even opened her mouth.

Put simply, it was suggested to me, "Boris has stopped her saying what she was going to say, but can't persuade her to say what he wants her to" .

Under this scenario, there is therefore a risk that she says very little of substance.

Or does she make a different decision and decide she won't be bullied by any of her ministers, give the speech she wants to and risk governing without some of the Brexit big names on board?

And if she is so hemmed in by the politics at home, how can she make progress abroad?

Saying very little in Italy will hurt the talks; saying too much could hurt at home.

When she stands up in Florence on Friday it might not just be the progress of the vital talks with the EU that are on the line, but the government's stability itself.

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