Britain’s PM May vows clean break from EU as she unveils Brexit strategy

Prime Minister outlines Brexit strategy, which includes giving parliament the final say on the eventual divorce

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 January, 2017, 9:53pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 January, 2017, 7:07am

After months of speculation and confusion over Downing Street’s plan for Britain leave the European Union, Theresa May finally unveiled her Brexit strategy on Tuesday.

Brexit must mean control of the number of people coming from Europe, and that is what we will deliver
Theresa May

The British prime minister said Britain will leave the EU’s ­single market to restrict immigration in a clean break from the bloc.

“Brexit must mean control of the number of people coming from Europe, and that is what we will deliver,” she said in a highly-anticipated speech in London. “What I am proposing cannot mean membership of the single market.”

May said Britain would seek a trade deal giving “the greatest possible access” to the market on its departure.

The pound, which nosedived after last June’s Brexit referendum, rebounded as she spoke.

May also announced that any divorce deal with the remaining EU members must be approved by votes in both chambers of ­Britain’s parliament.

Britain has two years to negotiate a break-up deal once May triggers Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, officially declaring the country’s intention to quit, or face leaving with no agreement.

May has promised to trigger Article 50 by the end of March, and said she believed a final settlement and trade deal could be negotiated within the time frame.

Foreign partners doubt such a timetable, with Austrian Foreign Minister Hans Joerg Schelling saying Brexit would take five years. Seeking to calm fears of a sudden jolt to the economy on abruptly leaving the EU, May said she would seek a “phased process of implementation”.

Her direction will be cheered by those who want to leave the EU, but dismay those who fear the impact on Britain’s economy.

Germany’s foreign minister said May had “finally brought a bit more clarity” to her government’s Brexit plans. Seven months after the referendum to leave the EU, Brexit “still has not been formalised”, said Frank-Walter Steinmeier in a statement.

“We therefore welcome the fact that the British prime minister has today sketched out her government’s plans for leaving and finally brought a bit more clarity about the British plans.”

Britain’s post-EU prospects were given a verbal boost on Sunday by US president-elect Donald Trump, who said he favoured a quick trade deal with Britain.

But a fast-track bilateral deal with Washington will be difficult in practical terms.

Under EU rules Britain cannot sign trade deals with third party states until it is formally outside the bloc, a position that does not change despite voting to leave. A two-year negotiating period is foreseen in EU legislation for any country choosing to exit.

Reactions to May’s long-delayed speech were mixed. Labour MP Angela Smith tweeted: “May’s speech in one sentence: ‘I want to have my cake and eat it’.”

Lai Suet-Yi of the Carnegie-Tsinghua Centre in Beijing said: “China is very important to the UK. After Brexit, UK’s options will be, firstly, Commonwealth countries ... secondly, the US market, but Britain will want to have something else to balance; so China will play a very important role. Politically, however, Mrs May might take a tougher tone towards China.

“Particularly if she pledged to make Britain a global power again, her hardline attitude might be considered a vote winner.”

Additional reporting by Wei Qi and Reuters