'Hard facts' for both sides in Brexit talks - Theresa May

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'Hard facts' for both sides in Brexit talks - Theresa May

  • 2 March 2018
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Media captionTheresa May: "We must bring our country back together"

Theresa May has warned that "no-one will get everything they want" out of Brexit negotiations but she is confident a deal can be done.

Setting out UK hopes for a future EU economic partnership, Mrs May warned both sides had to accept "hard facts".

Single market access would be "less than it is now" and the UK would have to pay into some EU agencies.

But she would not threaten to walk out of talks and in a message to the EU said: "Let's get on with it."

In what was billed as her third major Brexit speech, the prime minister said she was confident "points of difference" between the EU and UK over the terms of a temporary "implementation period" following Brexit on 29 March 2019 could be resolved and she wanted attention to turn to the long-term economic relationship.

She started by saying a hard Irish border or a border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK would be "unacceptable" and said it was for the UK and EU to "work together" on a solution.

She suggested this could be either a customs partnership, where the UK "mirrors" EU requirements on goods from around the world, or a streamlined customs arrangement, using technology and "trusted trader" schemes to do away with the need for customs checks.

And she acknowledged that life would be different for the UK outside the EU's single market: "In certain ways, our access to each other's markets will be less than it is now," she said, adding that the UK could not expect to "enjoy all the benefits without all of the obligations" of membership.

Another "hard fact" would be that the UK would still continue to be affected by EU law and some decisions of the European Court of Justice - as the ECJ rules on whether EU agreements are legal - but she stressed that the "jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in the UK must end".


By BBC Political Correspondent Alex Forsyth

Image copyright Getty Images

Mrs May was sending a message to those - not least her own backbenchers - who've been piling on pressure in pursuit of their version of Brexit.

She talked of pragmatism and common sense; no doubt a message for those on both sides of the Channel.

There was sweeping vision; regaining control and respecting the referendum result; but she also signalled willingness to compromise which won't play well with some.

The real test will be whether this speech was enough to convince critics that Mrs May's ambition for Brexit is credible and achievable without alienating her own MPs.

The UK may choose to remain "in step" with EU regulations in areas like state aid and competition, in order to get "good access" to markets, she said

And the UK wanted to investigate remaining part of the European Medicines Agency, the European Chemicals Agency, and the European Aviation Safety Agency - in return for abiding by their rules and "making an appropriate financial contribution".

The UK would commit to keeping its regulatory standards "as high as the EU's" to ensure smooth trade and that while UK law may not be "identical" to EU law "it should achieve the same outcomes".

In some cases "Parliament might choose to pass an identical law" amid exporters' demands for a single set of regulatory standards.

Mrs May acknowledged there would be "ups and downs" and, as in any negotiations, everyone would "not get everything they want" but said the UK and EU had "a shared interest in getting this right".

But she also said the EU would have to accept some hard facts as well, saying: "The [European] commission has suggested that the only option available to the UK is an off-the-shelf model."

"But, at the same time, they have also said that in certain areas, none of the EU's third country agreements would be appropriate."

She said the UK wanted the freedom to negotiate trade deals, control of laws and "as frictionless a border as possible" with the EU but said any disputes about the future relationship could not be ruled on by "the court of either party".

The prime minister called for a free trade agreement covering most sectors of the economy, going further than the deal signed between Canada and the EU but stopping 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.

Cherry picking

Amid criticism from the EU that the UK was attempting to "cherry-pick" the best parts of the bloc's rules, she said: "The fact is that every free trade agreement has varying market access depending on the respective interests of the countries involved.

"If this is cherry-picking, then every trade arrangement is cherry-picking."

The prime minister began her speech by setting out five "tests" for the negotiations and pledged to "bring our country together".

  • That any deal must respect the referendum result
  • That any deal must not break down
  • That any deal must protect jobs and security
  • That any deal must be "consistent with the kind of country we want to be" - modern, outward-looking and tolerant
  • That any agreement must bring the country together

The UK is due to leave the EU on 29 March 2019 but it wants a transition period lasting around two years after that, intended to smooth the way to the future post-Brexit relationship between the UK and the EU.

Reaction from Brussels

The EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier tweeted: "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."

But European Parliament's Brexit co-ordinator Guy Verhofstadt was not impressed.

He said: "Theresa May needed to move beyond vague aspirations, we can only hope that serious proposals have been put in the post.

While I welcome the call for a deep and special partnership, this cannot be achieved by putting a few extra cherries on the Brexit cake. "

Conservative reaction

The speech go a positive reaction from Brexit-backing cabinet ministers, with Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson tweeting: "We will remain extremely close to our EU friends and partners - but able to innovate, to set our own agenda, to make our own laws and to do ambitious free trade deals around the world."

But pro-European Tory rebel Anna Soubry told the BBC Leave voters would be right to question what was in it for them.

"The Brexit we are heading towards is very, very different to the one we were promised," she said.

Other reaction

The DUP, who Mrs May relies on for key Commons votes, welcomed Mrs May's "clear commitment that she will not countenance any new border being created in the Irish Sea between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom".

Leader Arlene Foster said she had "set forward the basis upon which it would be possible to move forward."

Business group the CBI tweeted: "Excellent news if UK can stay in key agencies like EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency) - glad PM has focused on them."