Sunday 25 February 2018

May hints at exit from Single Market, insisting UK will 'control its borders'

British Prime Minister Theresa May is interviewed by Sophy Ridge on Sky News in London yesterday. Photo: PA
British Prime Minister Theresa May is interviewed by Sophy Ridge on Sky News in London yesterday. Photo: PA
Colm Kelpie

Colm Kelpie

British Prime Minister Theresa May has hinted that the UK will leave the Single Market and pledged to lay out her strategy for Brexit in the coming weeks.

She said Britain would be able to control its borders and suggested the UK would seek its own trading deal with the rest of the European Union post-Brexit.

But she fudged the direct question of whether the country would exit the Single Market.

Just days after the surprise resignation of the UK's ambassador to Brussels, who argued Downing Street has no plan, Ms May defended her handling of the issue, saying it hasn't been "muddled".

In an interview with Sky News, Ms May suggested the country would not be keeping "bits of EU membership".

That could signal the UK's view on Single Market membership. If the UK loses membership of the Single Market, that could push up costs for Irish firms selling their products to British consumers.

"It's important for us to look at this issue in the right way because I think often people talk in terms as if somehow we're leaving the EU but we still want to keep bits of membership of the EU," Ms May said.

"We're leaving, we're coming out, we're not going to be a member of the EU any longer, so the question is what is the right relationship for the UK to have with the EU when we're outside.

"We will be able to have control of our borders, control of our laws, this is what people voted for on June 23."

But she signalled the possibility that the UK could secure some form of trade deal with the European Union post-Brexit.


"We still want the best possible deal for companies to be able to trade, UK companies to be able to trade in and operate within the European Union and also European companies being able to trade with the UK and operate within the UK," she said. But she did not commit to the Single Market when asked directly.

Ms May said she did not see this as a "binary issue" in which the UK would either get control of immigration or a good trade deal.

EU officials have already said Britain cannot have access to the Single Market without accepting the principle of free movement.

Her interview came just days after the resignation of Britain's ambassador to the EU, Ivan Rogers, who in an exit email to staff cited the absence of any clarity from Downing Street on the way forward on Brexit, and the lack of negotiating expertise in Whitehall, painting an unflattering picture of the UK government's handling of the Brexit process.

He urged his colleagues to continue to challenge "ill-founded arguments and muddled thinking", and claimed the European Commission was way ahead of Britain in terms of negotiating expertise.

Ms May said her thinking on the issue wasn't "muddled at all", although she offered little further insight into her strategy.

Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said Ms May's comments indicated she was "taking us towards a disastrous hard Brexit", with the UK on course to leave the Single Market.

Keir Starmer, Labour's shadow Brexit secretary, said Ms May must answer whether she was "putting such a priority on immigration" that she was "prepared to do real damage" to the UK economy.

Irish Independent

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