Brexit: UK to leave single market

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Theresa May

[BBC] – Theresa May has said the UK “cannot possibly” remain within the European single market, as staying in it would mean “not leaving the EU at all”.

But the prime minister promised to push for the “freest possible trade” with European countries and to sign new deals with others around the world. She also announced Parliament would get to vote on the final deal agreed between the UK and the EU.

But Labour warned of “enormous dangers” in the prime minister’s plans. Mrs May used her much-anticipated speech to announce the UK’s priorities for Brexit negotiations, including:

  • Maintaining the common travel area between the UK and Irish Republic
  • Tariff-free trade with the EU
  • A customs agreement with the EU
  • New trade agreements with countries outside the EU
  • Continued “practical” sharing of intelligence and policing information
  • “Control” of immigration rights for EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU
  • A “phased approach”

Mrs May said there would not be a “blow-by-blow” account of negotiations, set to get under way after Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty is invoked by the end of March.

It was not her intention to “undermine” the EU or the single market, she added, but she warned against a “punitive” reaction to Brexit, as it would bring “calamitous self-harm for the countries of Europe and it would not be the act of a friend”.

She added: “I am equally clear that no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain.”

She said: “This agreement should allow for the freest possible trade in goods and services between Britain and the EU’s member states.

“It should give British companies the maximum possible freedom to trade with and operate within European markets and let European businesses do the same in Britain. But I want to be clear: what I am proposing cannot mean membership of the single market.”

Mrs May added: “It would, to all intents and purposes, mean not leaving the EU at all. That is why both sides in the referendum campaign made it clear that a vote to leave the EU would be a vote to leave the single market.”

EU leaders had warned that the UK could not “cherry pick” access to the single market – which allows the free movement of goods, services and workers between its members – while restricting the free movement of people.

Mrs May said: “We will continue to attract the brightest and the best to work or study in Britain – indeed, openness to international talent must remain one of this country’s most distinctive assets – but that process must be managed properly so that our immigration system serves the national interest.

“So we will get control of the number of people coming to Britain from the EU.”

And Mrs May indicated the UK’s relationship with the EU’s customs union – whose members do not impose tariffs on each other’s goods and impose the same tariffs on goods from outside – would change.

She said she did not want the country to be “bound” by the shared external tariffs. The UK would instead be “striking our own comprehensive trade agreements with other countries”. This could mean becoming an “associate member” of the customs union, signing up to some parts only, or reaching a “completely new” agreement.

The UK’s “vast contributions” to the EU would also end, she added.

Addressing an audience including senior ministers and foreign ambassadors in central London, Mrs May said the UK had “voted for a brighter future for our country” and would become “stronger, fairer, more united” after Brexit. She said the country had always been “profoundly internationalist” and would remain so.

She delivered a message to the remaining 27 EU member states: “We will continue to be reliable partners, willing allies and close friends. We want to buy your goods, sell you ours, trade with you as freely as possible, and work with one another to make sure we are all safer, more secure and more prosperous through continued friendship.”

Mrs May, who backed Remain in the referendum, called for a “new and equal partnership” with the EU, “not partial membership of the European Union, associate membership of the European Union, or anything that leaves us half-in, half-out”.

“We do not seek to adopt a model already enjoyed by other countries. We do not seek to hold on to bits of membership as we leave.”

People voting for Brexit had done so “with their eyes open”, the prime minister said, and the country was “coming together” after the referendum, adding: “Now we need to put an end to the division and the language associated with it – Leaver and Remainer and all the accompanying insults – and unite to make a success of Brexit and build a truly global Britain.”

But Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn called on the prime minister to “be clearer” about her long-term objectives, arguing that she she wanted to “have her cake and eat it” over the single market.

He added: “I think we have to have a deal that ensures we have access to the market – we have British jobs dependent on that market – that’s what we’ll be pushing for.”

Mr Corbyn also said: “There are enormous dangers in all of this and when she talks about future trade arrangements, all she said was that Donald Trump said we’d be first in the queue – first in the queue for an investor protection-type treaty? I don’t know exactly what she has in mind on that.”

UK voters opted for Brexit in last June’s referendum by 51.9% to 48.1%.

After Mrs May’s speech Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said: “Hard Brexit was never on the ballot paper. Ripping us out of the single market was not something proposed to the British people. This is a theft of democracy.”

UKIP leader Paul Nuttall said he feared a “slow-motion Brexit”, adding: “We want this done quickly. We want a clean break with the European Union, a free trade deal, and then we can get on as a free, independent nation.”

In a statement, the Irish government said the UK’s “approach is now firmly that of a country which will have left the EU but which seeks to negotiate a new, close relationship with it”. It added it was “acutely aware of the potential risks and challenges for the Irish economy” but also of “the potential economic opportunities that may arise”.

Earlier, German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged the business community in her country to back her stance on Brexit, saying: “I’m asking you as representatives of the business world to act together with us, because should it become apparent that you can get full access to the single market even if you can choose certain things then we risk that every country cherry picks. That’s why politics and business need to act together.”