UK will leave EU single market, says Theresa May

Theresa May announces plans for a clean break from EU bloc and promises that politicians will vote on final Brexit deal.

Britain will leave the European Union’s single market but will “seek greatest possible access to it” as it exits the bloc, Theresa May has announced.

In a highly anticipated speech, the UK prime minister said on Tuesday that it was necessary to make a clean break and not opt for anything that “leaves us half-in, half-out” because that would mean “not leaving the EU at all”.

The UK will not “hold on to bits of membership”, nor seek associate or partial membership of the bloc, she said announcing her plans, but promised that the country’s parliament would get to vote on a final deal on Britain’s exit from the EU, or Brexit.

“I can confirm today that the government will put the final deal that is agreed between the UK and the EU to a vote in both houses of parliament before it comes into force,” May said.

The country would seek a “phased process” for leaving the EU after two years of formal negotiations to “avoid a disruptive cliff edge” for businesses, she said, adding that she would start the procedures by the end of March.


Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister:

“The UK government cannot be allowed to take us out of the EU and the single market, regardless of the impact on our economy, jobs, living standards and our reputation as an open, tolerant country, without Scotland having the ability to choose between that and a different future. With her comments today, the prime minister has only succeeded in making that choice more likely.”

Frank-Walter Steinmeier, German foreign minister: 

“We too want the best, closest and most trusting relationship and wish for constructive negotiations with this goal. But our line is, and remains: the negotiations can begin only when Great Britain has given official notification of its desire to leave.”  

Tomas Prouza, Czech secretary of state for EU affairs:  

“UK’s plan seems a bit ambitious – trade as free as possible, full control on immigration … where is the give for all the take?”  

Carl Bildt, former Swedish foreign minister and prime minister:  

“Theresa May’s speech indicates that UK is seeking something slightly less than the Ukraine DCFTA [Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement] agreement with the EU. A retreat from Europe.”  

Irish government: 

“She made clear that her priorities include maintaining the common travel area and avoiding a return to a hard border with Northern Ireland, both of which are welcome.”  

Angela Smith, British opposition Labour member of parliament:

“Theresa May’s speech in one sentence: ‘I want to have my cake and eat it’.”

“It is in no one’s interests for there to be a cliff edge for business or a threat to stability as we change our existing relationship to a new partnership with the EU,” May said.

“By this, I do not mean that we will seek some form of unlimited transitional status in which we find ourselves stuck for ever in some kind of permanent political purgatory.”

May also said the UK would seek a “new and equal partnership” with Europe.

“We seek a new and equal partnership between an independent, self-governing, global Britain and our friends and allies in the EU,” she said.

May said that the UK would guarantee the rights of EU citizens who were already living in Britain and the rights of the British nationals in other member states.

However, she added: “Brexit must mean control of the number of people who come to Britain from Europe.”

Gabriel Siles-Brügge, a lecturer in the Department of Politics and International Studies at the University of Warwick, told Al Jazeera that May’s plans for the new deal with the EU were highly unrealistic.

“What’s particularly interesting is that she has talked about some sort of new membership [of] the customs union which involves not having to accept the common commercial policy and not having to accept the common external tariffs,” he said.

“Basically Britain would have some sort of an arrangement whereby it participates in the customs union but in a sense not be bound by all of its rules.

“I think that is a very unlikely arrangement.”

There was a thinly veiled threat in May’s remarks suggesting that punitive action was not good for either the EU or Britain.

A majority of British voters decided to leave the EU in a referendum in June last year.

May also used her speech to appeal for reconciliation between the 48 percent of those who wanted to stay in the EU and the pro-Brexit 52 percent.

But the gap between “remainers” and “leavers” appears as wide as ever.

Theresa May: ‘We are leaving the EU, not Europe’

In a statement, Andrew Blick, a lecturer in politics and contemporary history at King’s College London, said the speech “makes the break look less ‘clean’ than we are being encouraged to believe … From a constitutional perspective, this negotiation is being treated as largely about trade.

“In fact, it will have immense consequences for the legal and political system of the United Kingdom.”

Possible tax breaks

Philip Hammond, the treasury chief, has suggested Britain would consider offering a break on corporation taxes if necessary, to encourage investment.

Jeremy Corbyn, UK opposition leader, said May appeared to be warning that she was ready to turn the UK into a “low-corporate taxation, bargain-basement economy off the shores of Europe” if the EU did not give her everything she wanted.

“She makes out this is a negotiating threat to the 27 EU countries, but it’s actually a threat to the British people’s jobs, services and living standards,” Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party, said.

The British pound rallied after May’s speech. The currency was recovering from steep losses earlier in the week, trading 2.2 percent higher at $1.2309.

On Monday, it was as low as $1.20, a near 31-year low.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies