Britain’s May promises clean break from Europe in Brexit speech

British Prime Minister Theresa May called Tuesday for a clean break from the European Union, declaring that her country intends to leave behind the most essential elements of a bloc that has been the cornerstone of continental integration for decades.
The speech, long anticipated and rich with detail, was celebrated by Brexit advocates as an endorsement of their most fervent hopes for a full-scale liberation from the dictates of Brussels. E.U. advocates countered that May was steering the country toward a potentially calamitous breakup, leaving Britain with the Donald Trump-led United States as a partner but with few unwavering friends in Europe.

European leaders offered measured responses, suggesting that Britain was becoming more realistic about its prospects in the complex divorce negotiations to come. But still, Britain may not get all it seeks as it moves to blaze its own course.

There was no immediate reaction from the incoming American president, who set alarm bells ringing across Europe just a day earlier by suggesting he was indifferent to the future of the European Union — and expected more countries to follow Britain’s path out.

After refusing for months to give “a running commentary” on Britain’s negotiating strategy, May’s speech offered the clearest indication to date of the country’s departure plans, which were set in motion by last June’s referendum on Britain’s E.U. ties.

May said that Britain wants to be “the best friend and neighbors to our European partners” but cannot be “half-in, half-out” of the bloc, which was born from the ashes of World War II and is designed to prevent future conflict by uniting Europe around a common economic and political project.

“We do not seek to hold on to bits of membership as we leave,” she said. She went on to reject preexisting models for quasi-membership that have been favored by those seeking “a soft Brexit.”

Her remarks instead point to a jarring departure that transforms Britain’s relations with Europe.

Britain, she said, will jettison membership of both the single market — which guarantees the free flow of goods, services and people across national boundaries — as well as the customs union, which dictates the terms of trade between Europe and the outside world.

Instead, she said, Britain will seek preferential trade access to European markets through a new agreement. And she said that the country would strike out on its own in negotiating trade deals outside the European Union, which will be left with 27 members spanning from Ireland to Cyprus.

Such a break has been widely anticipated, though never formally spelled out. The British pound climbed on Tuesday after drops over the previous several days as excerpts of May’s speech began to circulate.

The pound’s value jumped when May said she would give Parliament final say on Britain’s new deal with the European Union. Unlike the country at large, most members of Parliament favored “remain.” May declined to answer when asked what would happen if Parliament nixes the deal.

May’s promise to allow for a transitional period — in which any new agreement is phased in — also seemed to please investors. British businesses have been concerned about the potential for a disruptive “cliff edge” in which the impact of an exit kicks in overnight.

Britain voted 52-to-48 in June to leave behind the European Union after over four decades of membership of the bloc and its precursors. Britain’s anti-establishment message was seen as prelude to other populist backlash around the world, led by the election of Trump.

May was a reluctant backer of “remain,” but in the months since the vote she has done little to disappoint ardent Brexiteers. She has stressed that British voters want tighter control over immigration, and her words Tuesday suggest that will be her priority in the breakup talks — even at the expense of economic pain from losing membership in the single market and customs union.

Brexit advocates were delighted by May’s plan, while critics despaired.

Former U.K. Independence Party leader Nigel Farage, a Trump ally, tweeted after the speech that May “is now using the phrases and words that I’ve been mocked for using for years. Real progress.”

But Tim Farron, leader of the pro-E. U. Liberal Democrats, told the BBC that May was careening toward a destructive Brexit that would harm the country’s self-interest. “This is a theft of democracy, a presumption that the 51.9 percent of people who voted to leave meant the most extreme version of Brexit available,” he said.

Farron’s ally, former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, said May was effectively “siding with Donald Trump and against [German Chancellor] Angela Merkel” and thereby “virtually guaranteeing that acrimony rather than compromise will prevail.”

May’s speech came a day after the publication of an interview in Britain’s Times of London and Germany’s Bild in which Trump dismissed the European Union as “a vehicle for Germany” and said that Britain was “so smart in getting out.”

Trump, who backed Brexit, also expressed enthusiasm for a free trade deal between the United States and Britain. Such a deal would be possible only if Britain leaves the customs union.

May welcomed those remarks, saying Tuesday that “Britain is not at the back of the queue for a trade deal with the United States, the world’s biggest economy, but front of the line.”

The comment referenced President Obama’s intervention in British politics last spring, when he urged Britons to say no to Brexit and insisted the U.K. would have to wait its turn before negotiating an agreement with the U.S. should it leave the E.U.

May, who has been in office since July, has repeatedly promised to trigger the start of Britain’s exit talks by the end of March. Once that’s done — through a mechanism known as Article 50 of the E.U.’s Lisbon Treaty — Britain will have two years to negotiate the terms of its departure.

Europe has signaled it will take a hard line with Britain. At a time when other E.U. countries are flirting with a departure, allowing Britain to keep the benefits of membership while unshackling itself from the burdens could prompt other nations to speed toward the exits.

May’s Tuesday speech was cautiously welcomed across the English Channel, where leaders had previously derided Britain for wanting to have its cake and eat it, too — a charge that British politicians didn’t exactly deny.

“Sad process, surrealistic times but at least more realistic announcement on #Brexit,” tweeted European Council President Donald Tusk.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier welcomed “a bit more clarity about the British plans. [May] has underlined that Great Britain is seeking a positive and constructive partnership, a friendship, with a strong E.U. That is good.”

The prime minister delivered her speech at a gilded, neoclassical, 19th-century mansion — Lancaster House — in front of an audience that included foreign diplomats. Margaret Thatcher had used the venue 29 years ago to endorse Britain’s single-market membership.

May spoke in front of a white backdrop emblazoned with the words “A Global Britain,” and her speech emphasized the importance of the country’s continuing ties with Europe and beyond.

“We are leaving the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe,” she said.

But amid generally conciliatory words, there were also barbs.

She said any effort by Europe to negotiate “a punitive deal” with Britain would “be an act of calamitous self-harm.”

If Europe fails to negotiate in good faith, she said, she could decide to “change the basis of Britain’s economic model” — words that were interpreted as a thinly veiled threat to turn the U.K. into a tax haven that would undercut E.U. markets.

She also suggested she was prepared to walk away from the negotiating table, an outcome known as “dirty Brexit.”

“No deal for Britain,” she said, “is better than a bad deal for Britain.”

Theresa May set out her blueprint for Brexit CREDIT: LEON NEAL/GETTY

Theresa May has set out a blueprint which will guide Britain’s negotiations to leave the European Union over the next two years.

Mrs May said her speech, entitled A Global Britain, was “the framework of a deal that will herald a new partnership between the UK and the EU”.

It was “a comprehensive and carefully considered plan that focuses on the ends, not just the means – with its eyes fixed firmly on the future, and on the kind of country we will be once we leave”.

Mrs May and her ministers will not reveal “blow by blow” details of her negotiating strategy because it would be against “the national interest”. 

The Prime Minister said: “This is not a game or a time for opposition for opposition’s sake. It is a crucial and sensitive negotiation that will define the interests and the success of our country for many years to come. And it is vital that we maintain our discipline.”

Mrs May’s 12-point plan for Brexit centred on regaining control of borders, ending the jurisdiction of the European courts and getting a good deal for British businesses. In a passionate plea for Britain to get behind her plans, Mrs May said that it would be “the legacy of our time”.

Controlling immigration

Britain will create an immigration system that “serves the national interest” after the UK quits the EU.

The Prime Minister said: “In the last decade or so, we have seen record levels of net migration in Britain, and that sheer volume has put pressure on public services, like schools, stretched our infrastructure, especially housing, and put a downward pressure on wages for working class people.

“As Home Secretary for six years, I know that you cannot control immigration overall when there is free movement to Britain from Europe.”

She continued: “Brexit must mean control of the number of people who come to Britain from Europe. And that is what we will deliver.”

Mrs May warned that “while controlled immigration can bring great benefits … when the numbers get too high, public support for the system falters”.


The comments on immigration will delight Eurosceptics who for years have called for the Government to curb numbers. This is the reddest of lines in the negotiations and ending freedom of movement must be delivered by the Prime Minister.

However, business will want assurances that they will have access to enough labour in the years ahead.

Out of the single market

Britain will leave the EU single market and “be free to strike trade deals across the world”.

Mrs May also signalled that Britain would most probably have to leave the customs union, or agree different terms with the EU, to sign these new trade deals.

The UK wanted “the freest possible trade in goods and services” with the EU after Brexit. Mrs May said Britain was a “great, global nation with so much to offer Europe and so much to offer the world.”

A “bold and ambitious Free Trade agreement” with the EU was a priority. It would “give British companies the maximum freedom to trade with and operate within European markets – and let European businesses do the same in Britain”.

Mrs May said “the days of Britain making vast contributions to the EU every year will end”.


For Britain to prosper in the world after Brexit, it would have been nonsensical to remain a member of the single market unable to do free trade deals with America, China and India. The deal over the customs union will remain perhaps the most crucial, albeit technical, part of the negotiations.

Rights for British expats

The right of British expats to carry on living in the EU – and EU nationals living in the UK – will be enshrined “as early as we can”, Mrs May said.

Britain has made clear to the other 27 EU countries that a reciprocal deal could be signed now to “give people the certainty they want straight away”.


Mrs May’s commitment will be a relief to the UK’s hundreds of thousands of expats in the EU who are worried they may have to move back to the UK. However, the detail of the effective amnesty for EU nationals living in the UK represents a major challenge for Whitehall.

Smooth, orderly Brexit

Shared rules between the UK and the EU on immigration controls, financial regulations and law and order could continue after Brexit, Mrs May pledged. It was in “our mutual self-interest” to phase out regulation from the EU.

She said: “This will give businesses enough time to plan and prepare for those new arrangements.” 

The transitional period, however long, would seek to avoid a “disruptive cliff-edge.”


Anthony Browne, chief executive of the British Bankers’ Association, said Mrs May had provided “important clarity” on the UK’s future relationship with Europe and the Federation of Small Businesses welcomed plans for a transition period.

Ukip said any continued cooperation was “diametrically opposed to the independence the British people voted for”.

Protecting workers’ rights

Workers’ rightswhich are currently set out in EU employment law will be enshrined in British law after Brexit.

There had been fears from unions that protections such as the Working Time Directive which stops staff being forced to work for more than 48 hours each week will not be written into British regulations.


Designed to appeal to Labour voters in the north of England who backed Brexit. However, the move may prove controversial with free market Conservatives who have long hoped for deregulation away from Brussels.

Strengthening the Union

The “precious bond” which ties together the United Kingdom will be stronger, not weaker, outside of the EU. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will each receive more powers as responsibilities are “repatriated” from Brussels, Mrs May said.

She invited written submissions from Northern Ireland and Wales, having already received one from Scotland, about how they view the UK after Brexit.

She said her “guiding principle” will be that there are “no new barriers to living and doing business”.


SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon said a different future for Scotland was more likely following Mrs May’s announcement about the single market.

She called for “serious engagement” on Scotland’s proposal to be allowed to remain even if the rest of the UK leaves.

Cooperation on security

Britain will continue to share intelligence with EU member states about threats from terrorists after Brexit.

Leaving the EU would have no bearing on a shared desire to combat “cross-border crime”, terrorism and “the dangers presented by hostile states”, Mrs May said.

She wanted the UK’s future relationship with the EU “to include practical arrangements” on law enforcement and intelligence sharing.

She added: “We will continue to work closely with our European allies in foreign and defence policy.”


The comments will have reassured EU leaders who rely heavily on Britain’s expertise in fighting terrorism when dealing with the threat from Islamist extremists on the continent.

Providing certainty

Members of both Houses of Parliament will have a vote on the terms of Brexit.

Mrs May also confirmed that when the European Communities Act is repealed the Government will write “the body of EU law into British law”.


Business groups welcomed Mrs May’s commitment to provide certainty wherever possible and the value of the pound rose after she confirmed the Brexit agreement would have to be approved by MPs and peers.

Controlling our own laws

Leaving the EU will mean that the UK “will take back control of our laws and bring an end to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in Britain”. 


The news cheered Eurosceptics. But Tory MP Ken Clarke said Britain could still find itself under the jurisdiction of the European Court as part of its new trade deal with the EU.

New trade agreements

Ministers will ensure that they “get out into the wider world, to trade and do business all around the globe”, Mrs May said.

Freeing itself from the single market will allow the UK “to increase significantly its trade with the fastest growing export markets in the world”.

Talks about trade deals had already started with China, Brazil and the Gulf States as well as Australia, New Zealand and India.

Britain would not be “at the back of the queue” for a new trade deal with the US, as President Obama had said last summer, but at the “front of the line”.


Allie Renison, of the Institute of Directors, said: “Business leaders will be heartened by the Prime Minister’s strong argument for the value of free trade, an argument currently being made by all too few global leaders.”

Travel across Irish border

People will still be able to travel between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic after Brexit without showing their passports.

Mrs May said a Common Travel Area covering the island of Ireland was “an important priority for the UK in the talks ahead”. This pre-dated Britain joining the European Economic Community and there was no reason why this “special relationship” could not continue.


Businesses in Northern Ireland welcomed Mrs May’s commitment to maintaining the Common Travel Area but warned of the dangers of leaving the single market.

Science and innovation

A post-Brexit Britain will be at the forefront of new thinking in science, space exploration, research and technology.

The UK will “welcome agreement to continue to collaborate with our European partners”.


The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry said the comments were a “welcome statement of intent that provides the UK’s pharmaceutical industry with confidence for the future”.

Theresa May commits to Brexit vote in UK Parliament

British Prime Minister Theresa May committed to placing a final Brexit deal to a vote in both houses of the UK parliament, as she outlined for the first time her plan for extracting Britain from the European Union.

In a much-anticipated speech in London, May said that once Britain had negotiated a final deal to leave the European Union, it would be placed before the House of Commons and the House of Lords for approval.

In language that indicated a "hard Brexit", May confirmed that Britain would leave the EU single market, which guarantees the free movement of goods, services and people within the bloc. The Prime Minister made it clear that her fundamental aim was regain full control of immigration and lawmaking -- and that leaving the single market was the inevitable consequence.

Britain could not be "half-in, half-out" of the EU, the Prime Minister said.

But she revealed that, in the forthcoming negotiations with the EU, Britain would seek an arrangement to replace the provisions of the EU customs union. Such a deal could amount to "associatere membership" of the customs union, she said.

May also warned other EU member states not to seek a "punitive" deal for Britain in order to send a message to Euroskeptics in other countries. Such a move would be a "calamitous act of self-harm," she said.
"No deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain," May declared.

Parliament given vote
What May said: The Prime Minister revealed for the first time that the British government will put the final Brexit deal to a vote, meaning that members of the UK parliament could, in theory, block the deal. When asked by reporters what would happen in that scenario, May avoided a direct answer. "I am sure the British Parliament will want to deliver the views of the British people and respect the democratic decision that was taken," she said.

But negotiations on a deal can't even begin until the British government invokes Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which sets the rules of EU membership. May has said she wants to trigger the mechanism by the end of March, and did not seek to alter that timetable in her speech.

The UK Supreme Court is due to rule in the next few weeks on whether there must be another vote in the UK parliament before that can happen. Negotiations must then be concluded within two years.

What it means: Two years is a long time in British politics, and it's hard to predict the outcome of a parliamentary vote before talks have even started on a deal. But analysts expect that, if there is not a general election in the meantime, May would prevail.

"There are so many unknowns," Quentin Peel, associate fellow of the Europe Program at the Chatham House think tank, told CNN. "Are we going to have an election before it gets to that stage? What will the make up of the House of Commons be?"

Peel noted that May refused to be drawn on whether a vote against the deal in Parliament would mean that Britain could remain a member of the EU -- or a departure without a deal. "If the option is the deal you've negotiated or no deal at all but still leaving then I think that would put huge pressure on Parliament to agree to it.

"But if there were an option to go back in [to the EU] then it's a little bit uncertain."

Single market and customs union
What May said: May was clear on Britain leaving the single market in an effort to pursue what she called a "bold and ambitious free trade agreement." But she said that the UK would attempt to negotiate as much access as possible to it, without having to sign up to obligations on the free movement of people.

May said the UK would try to keep some kind of relationship with the customs union, which allows for the tariff-free movement of goods in the EU, to ensure that cross-border trade is "as frictionless as possible."

What it means: As an EU member, the UK trades freely with the other 27 EU countries. That two-way flow was worth about £513 billion in 2015, just over half the UK's total. A new EU-UK deal will now have to be struck.

But it doesn't end there. The EU manages preferential trade deals with nearly 60 other nations on behalf of its members. The UK will have to seek new ties with those countries.

On May's plan to strike a new customs deal, Tom Raines, a research fellow at the Europe Program at Chatham House, said it would "require some creative thinking to reduce the regulatory burden."

What May said: The Prime Minister said she wanted to guarantee the rights of EU citizens already in Britain and British citizens in other EU states "as early as we can." But she was unable to offer any more clarity than that.

Addressing future immigration from European countries, May said: "Brexit must mean control of the number of people who come to Britain from Europe. And that is what we will deliver."

What it means: For EU citizens living in Britain, there was no comfort. The Prime Minister made it clear that their status was up for negotiation, and depended on the rights conferred on British citizens living in the European Union.
"For member states with a big diaspora in the UK, this is a big issue and eastern European states have been quite vocal about it," said Stephen Booth, Acting Director and Director of Policy and Research at Open Europe.

"The issue has been that the EU has had the mantra of no negotiating before Article 50 is triggered which led to a stalemate.

"The government has said that it will be dealing with this straight away. It understands the individuals concerned want to know what is happening as well as the business community, who want to know about their workplace."

Maintaining the unity of the UK
What May said: The Prime Minister said she would put preservation of "our precious union" at the heart of the negotiation with Europe -- a reference to the constituent parts of the United Kingdom. Scotland and Northern Ireland voted overwhelmingly to stay in the EU.

May said she would seek input on the deal from the UK nations and regions. "We won't agree on everything, but I look forward to working with the administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to deliver a Brexit that works for the whole of the United Kingdom," May said.

What it means: Scotland's First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon has made little secret of her desire to launch a second independence referendum should May seek to leave the single market.

Sturgeon issued a stout response on Tuesday. "Scotland did not vote for the direction set out in the Prime Minister's speech today -- and it is not in our national interests," she said.

It seems likely that May is heading for a showdown with the Scottish government. But Peel said the Scottish First Minister was on the back foot. "She's been told today, 'get lost, we're not staying in the single market," he said.

The collapse of the power-sharing agreement in Northern Ireland last week raises an added complication for May, should Brexit become an issue in the elections that have been called for March.

Land border with European Union
What May said: Under the terms of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement that ended sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland, there is currently an open border between the UK and the Republic of Ireland. But critics have questioned whether an open border can be maintained after Britain leaves the EU, with Ireland staying in.

May said bringing about a solution would be an "important priority" adding that "nobody wants to return to the borders of the past, so we will make it a priority to deliver a practical solution as soon as we can."

What it means: "The Achilles heel of the entire negotiation process is Ireland and Northern Ireland," Peel told CNN.
"It's a huge question as to whether some sort of border will have to be reinserted there. It is fundamental to the peace agreement that the population of Northern Ireland has the right to have Irish citizenship as well as British citizenship.

"Can that be maintained? I think it will be, but will the other members of the EU accept a situation where you have a land border of the EU with a non-member state that is open?"

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