Brexit took another turn during January, as UK Prime Minister Theresa May set out her vision for the UK’s exit from the European Union (EU). In a speech that set out the framework of her Brexit plan, she made it clear that the UK does not intend to stay in the European Single Market, as this would mean “not leaving the EU at all”. Instead, she pledged to seek the “greatest possible access” to the Single Market, calling for “the “freest possible trade in goods and services between Britain and the EU’s member states”.
In a landmark speech, Mrs May outlined the 12 priorities that will guide negotiations:
- Control of our own laws
- Strengthen the Union (between the four nations of the UK)
- Maintain the Common Travel Area with Ireland
- Control of immigration
- Rights for EU nationals in Britain, and British nationals in the EU
- Protect workers’ rights
- Free trade with European markets
- New trade agreements with other countries
- The best place for science and innovation
- Cooperation in the fight against crime and terrorism
- A smooth, orderly Brexit
Mrs May aims to pursue a “bold and ambitious” trade deal with the EU, advocating a “new and equal partnership” and dismissing the possibility of “partial membership… associate membership… or anything that leaves us half-in, half-out”. This echoed the words of Michel Barnier , the chief Brexit negotiator of the European Commission (EC), who warned during December that “cherry picking is not an option”.
She called for the UK and the EU to remain “reliable partners, willing allies and close friends” in a post-Brexit world. Nevertheless, she cautioned against a “punitive” response from Europe, warning that such a reaction would prove harmful to EU members and, moreover, “would not be the act of a friend”. She also indicated that she was willing to walk away from discussions that might prove unfavourable to the UK, stating: “no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal”.
The UK is scheduled to invoke Article 50 by the end of March, triggering the start of the exit process, which should take about two years. The UK’s Parliament will vote on the terms of the agreement; however, Mrs May has not clarified what would happen if Parliament were to reject the deal.