LONDON: British Prime Minister Theresa May called on Friday for a wide-ranging free trade deal with the EU after Brexit, but said it was time to face up to “hard facts” about the economic consequences of leaving the bloc.
May’s highly-anticipated speech on the UK’s future ties with Brussels came just weeks ahead of the two sides sitting down to negotiate future ties.
Here are five key points from her address:
Free trade agreement
May confirmed Britain will leave the European single market and customs union, calling instead for a free trade agreement “covering more sectors and co-operating more fully than any free trade agreement anywhere in the world today”.
But she acknowledged for the first time that Britain may face trade barriers as a result of Brexit: “The reality is we all need to face up to some hard facts… In certain ways our access to each other’s markets will be different.”
In pledging to preserve close trade ties with the bloc, May committed to keeping UK regulatory standards on goods “at least as high as the EU’s”.
Concessions by both sides
Both London and Brussels will have to make concessions during the “ups and downs in the months ahead”, May said.
“We both need to face the fact that this is a negotiation and neither of us can have exactly what we want,” she told the London audience.
The premier softened her previous “no deal is better than a bad deal” position, promising Britain would not threaten a walk-out.
“We will move forward by calm, patient discussion of each other’s positions,” she said.
Paying for EU agencies
Britain wants to remain part of EU agencies such as the European Medicines Agency, which will be relocated from London to Amsterdam owing to Brexit.
“We would, of course, accept that this would mean abiding by the rules of those agencies and making an appropriate financial contribution,” May said, a point of contention in Britain where Brexit voters have rallied against EU payments.
But the prime minister said such associated membership should not see Britain tied to the European Court of Justice (ECJ), instead wanting any disputes resolved through UK courts.
Although Britain aims to leave the jurisdiction of the ECJ, May admitted EU laws would continue to affect the country.
No passporting right
London-based financial firms will lose their so-called passporting rights, which allow them to trade freely with other EU countries.
“We are not looking for passporting because we understand this is intrinsic to the single market, of which we would no longer be a member.
“It would also require us to be subject to a single rule book, over which we would have no say,” said May.
Northern Ireland border
May repeated her rejection of an EU proposal made earlier this week to have Northern Ireland remain in a customs union with the bloc, if no better solution is found.
“Just as it would be unacceptable to go back to a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, it would also be unacceptable to break up the United Kingdom’s own common market,” she said.
Britain has a “responsibility” to resolve the border issue, but May said “we can’t do it on our own” and called for cooperation with Dublin and Brussels.