Theresa May's speech, first of all. The PM announced that article 50 will be triggered by the end of March 2017, marking the starting point on the Brexit timeline. The intention it seems is to have wrapped up the negotiations before the EU elections scheduled for mid-2019 (there certainly wouldn't be much point in electing new British MEPs). The immediate reaction to the announcement was a further fall in the value of the pound to a 31-year low against the dollar, and the FTSE 100 - consisting mostly of foreign companies - rose to a 16-month high.
The second big announcement was "The Great Repeal Bill", which repeals the 1972 European Communities Act on the day of the exit and converts all EU laws and treaty obligations currently affecting the UK (the EU aquis) into British law. The Telegraph separately reported this as "taking an axe to EU law" and "a bold move by the PM" when it isn't really either of those things. In fact, it is precisely the opposite of "taking an axe to EU laws", it is taking EU laws and turning them into our laws as to ensure consistency for business, meaning as the PM stated that: "The same rules and laws will apply to them after Brexit as they did before". The idea is that once we are out, we can then start looking at what we might want to change or get rid of. If anything, it is confirmation that the government is looking for a smooth transition and views Brexit as a process rather than an event. This is a good thing.
Of course though, as Ian Dunt bluntly puts it: "May's big EU announcement is just admin". This "repeal bill" was always going to need to happen for Brexit to mean Brexit in any sense. Without repealing the EU Communities Act we can never regain the sovereignty promised in the referendum campaign and begin making our own laws again. I guess it depends on your point of view; for enthusiastic leavers like Dan Hannan for example, "The Great Repeal Bill" is much more than symbolic: it is the first big commitment to Brexit.
I am now convinced this whole "hard" and "soft" Brexit thing is the most useless and obfuscating development in the entire pre- and post-referendum period. The papers jumped all over the place after May's speech about how we are obviously now heading for a hard Brexit, when nobody can pin down exactly what this means. What's worse is that the media did this when May stated her own definitions of "hard" - a conscious decision to reject trade with Europe - and "soft" - some form of continued membership - and labelled it a false dichotomy, which it totally is. I might add that these are not the definitions most go by, which just highlights how stupid these terms are: they mean completely different things to different people. William Hague argues this in the Telegraph and asks us not to fall into the trap of thinking in such simplistic terms. May also ruled out both the Norway and the Swiss options, which again tells us precisely nothing on its own. This was never going to be a case where five brown envelopes were put on a table labeled option 1 - 5 and we pick one, although I must say I preferred it when we were discussing 5 well-defined options rather than two rubbish ones. Richard North brilliantly exposes the uselessness of trying to put nice labels on our exit options, his take from the speech being that "Mrs May rejects everything - and nothing".
Phillip Hammond took a much more cautious approach than the PM. He was clear that he expected economic strife ahead and that there would be stimulus to tackle it. His speech was perhaps intended to balance the scales back towards reality - that yes this is really happening and no it ain't gonna be easy.
All in all I would take three broad conclusions from last week. Firstly, Brexit is happening and it will begin in March next year; secondly, the government understands that there should be no big bang - there must be consistency for business and the changes must happen step-by-step; and thirdly, the Chancellor knows that the exit process will have a negative impact on the economy and is prepared to spend to mitigate this.
Despite this, we don't know a whole lot more than we did last week, but at least the timer has been set and a very broad course plotted. I had a whole bunch of non-Tory conference related stuff to talk about this week but for now I will leave you with this cartoon from Morten Morland of The Times because it's great. See you next week.