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Brexit

Britain, EU will not get ‘exactly what we want’: Theresa May lays out Brexit vision 

In highly anticipated speech, the prime minister called for a free-trade agreement covering most sectors, going further than the deal signed between Canada and the EU

PUBLISHED : Friday, 02 March, 2018, 5:59am
UPDATED : Saturday, 03 March, 2018, 12:23am

British Prime Minister Theresa May said on Friday that both London and Brussels will have to make concessions in Brexit negotiations, adding that she remained “confident” of a deal with the EU.

“We both need to face the fact that this is a negotiation and neither of us can have exactly what we want,” she said in a highly-anticipated speech in London on Britain’s future relationship with the bloc.

May said she remained “confident” of reaching a deal with the European Union, while admitting Britain needed to “resolve the tension between some of our key objectives”. 

“I want to be straight with people because the reality is we all need to face up to some hard facts.

“We are leaving the single market, life is going to be different. In certain ways our access to each other’s markets will be different,” she said.

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In her speech, the prime minister called for a free-trade agreement covering most sectors, going further than the deal signed between Canada and the EU but stopping far short of Norway which is a member of the European Economic Area. 

“We need to strike a new balance. but we will not accept the rights of Canada and the obligations of Norway,” she said. 

The EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, applauded the speech on Twitter, saying she had brought “clarity”.

“I welcome PM @theresa_may speech. Clarity about #UK leaving Single Market and Customs Union & recognition of trade-offs will inform #EUCO guidelines re: future FTA,” he tweeted.

But not all were so pleased by the prime minister’s remarks.

Manfred Weber, the German leader of the biggest party in the European Parliament and an ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel, said the speech left him worried there may be no deal on Brexit.

“After what I have heard today I am even more concerned,” Weber, of the centre-right European People’s Party, said on Twitter.

“I don’t see how we could reach an agreement on Brexit if the UK government continues to bury its head in the sand like this.”

May’s speech to at Mansion House in London came after she met European Council President Donald Tusk at 10 Downing Street in London on Thursday.

In a statement after her meeting with Tusk, May’s office said she “hoped that European leaders would engage with this thinking constructively”.

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Downing Street called the meeting as “positive and constructive”, despite Tusk and other top EU officials expressing increasing frustration with Britain’s stance, which many in the bloc see as vague and unrealistic.

Tusk said as the meeting started that he was “not happy” with May’s negotiating “red lines,” which include leaving the EU’s single market and customs union.

The UK is due to leave the EU in March 2019, but the two sides have yet to negotiate new arrangements for trade, security, aviation and a host of other fields.

Barnier said on Thursday that British officials should stop pretending “that the UK could obtain a free trade deal with the EU with all the benefits of the single market without the obligations.”

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“Abandoning such ideas will enable us to begin building an ambitious future partnership based on the foundation of realism,” he told a business gathering in Brussels.

British aims have been left vague so far – more than 18 months after the country voted to leave the EU – because May’s Conservative government is divided. 

Some ministers want a clean break with the EU, while others hope to retain close economic alignment with the bloc to cushion the shock of Brexit.

British ambiguity also collided this week with the hard problem of the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, which will be the only land frontier between the UK and the EU after Brexit.

Britain and the bloc agreed in December that there would be no customs posts or other impediments along the all-but-invisible border. The EU says Britain has not set out how that can be achieved, so it made its own proposal Wednesday – which Britain rejected.

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May has said the plan, which would keep Northern Ireland inside the EU’s customs union, would “undermine the constitutional integrity of the UK”.

Here are May’s main points on EU, Britain ties

Trade relationship

May said Britain and the EU should aim for a new kind of trade deal after Brexit. The EU’s existing agreements with Norway and Canada were unsuitable because they would hurt supply chains and make it hard to keep an open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, she said.

Financial services 

May said a Brexit deal on financial services could and should be part of Britain’s new relationship with the EU, pushing back at the refusal of Brussels to allow Britain to pick and choose which part of the bloc’s single market it wants to keep access to.

Implementation period

May said London and Brussels were close to agreeing the terms of an implementation, or transition, period after Britain’s scheduled departure from the EU in March next year.

Northern Ireland

May said Brexit would not put at risk the progress made on securing peace in Northern Ireland and she any hard border or a customs border in the Irish Sea, between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom, was unacceptable

European Court of Justice

The prime minister said Britain would continue to be affected by decisions of the European Court of Justice and the country’s courts would look at ECJ interpretations of laws to ensure consistency. But the ECJ could no longer be the ultimate arbiter of the law in Britain after Brexit.

EU rules and standards

May said Britain might choose to remain in step with EU state aid and competition rules after Brexit. In the areas of workers right and the environment, there would be no race to the bottom, she said.

Customs union

May stuck to her position that Britain would leave the EU’s customs union, as well as its single market, in order to pursue its own trade deals with other countries around the world. She said a customs partnership could keep the same border tariffs for goods intended for the EU but different ones for those going into the UK.

EU agencies

The prime minister said Britain wanted to discuss with the EU how it could remain part of key EU agencies such as the ones covering the chemicals, medicines and aerospace industries.

● Data

May said Britain and the EU would need an arrangement on data protection and it would have to be more than just an adequacy arrangement which is a status granted by the EU to countries outside the European Economic Area which provide a level of personal data protection that is “essentially equivalent” to that provided in European law.