Some 'clarity' after Theresa May's Brexit speech, but others not so positive

British Prime Minister Theresa May delivering a speech at Lancaster House in London yesterday on the government's plans to leave the European Union's single market. Mrs May has said that she will invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty to begin the Br
British Prime Minister Theresa May delivering a speech at Lancaster House in London yesterday on the government's plans to leave the European Union's single market. Mrs May has said that she will invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty to begin the Brexit negotiations by the end of March. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
British Prime Minister Theresa May delivering a speech at Lancaster House in London yesterday on the government's plans to leave the European Union's single market. Mrs May has said that she will invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty to begin the Br
A television screen showing the movement of the pound against the US dollar during British Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit speech.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

German minister says talks on Brexit terms will not start until Britain officially declares intention to leave the EU

LONDON • British Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit speech yesterday pledging to quit the European Union's single market has drawn mixed reactions from Europe, with Germany's Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier saying that she had "finally brought a bit more clarity" to the issue.

Seven months after the referendum to leave the European Union, Brexit "still has not been formalised", the German minister said in a statement.

"We... welcome the fact that the British Prime Minister has today sketched out her government's plans for leaving and finally brought a bit more clarity about the British plans," Mr Steinmeier said.

However, he stressed that Berlin would not enter into talks on the terms of Brexit until Britain triggered Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, officially declaring the country's intention to quit the EU.

EU president Donald Tusk said Mrs May's speech provided a "more realistic" picture of what London wanted.

PRIME MINISTER THERESA MAY ON BREXIT

I want us to be a truly global Britain - the best friend and neighbour to our European partners, but a country that reaches beyond the borders of Europe too. A country that goes out into the world to build relationships with old friends and new allies alike.

It is in no one's interests for there to be a cliff-edge for business or a threat to stability, as we change from our existing relationship to a new partnership with the EU. By this, I do not mean that we will seek some form of unlimited transitional status, in which we find ourselves stuck forever in some kind of permanent political purgatory.

Britain wants to remain a good friend and neighbour to Europe. Yet I know there are some voices calling for a punitive deal that punishes Britain and discourages other countries from taking the same path. That would be an act of calamitous self-harm for the countries of Europe. And it would not be the act of a friend.

We are leaving the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe. And that is why we seek a new and equal partnership - between an independent, self-governing, global Britain and our friends and allies in the EU.

"Sad process, surrealistic times but at least more realistic announcement on #Brexit. EU27 united and ready to negotiate after Art 50," Mr Tusk wrote in a tweet.

Mrs May has said that she will invoke Article 50 to begin the Brexit negotiations by the end of March.

The Czech Republic's secretary of state for EU affairs Tomas Prouza said Britain's plan for leaving the European Union is a "bit ambitious".

"UK's plan seems a bit ambitious - trade as free as possible, full control on immigration... where is the give for all the take?" he said on Twitter.

In response to such concerns, British Brexit minister David Davis told Parliament that the country's approach to leaving the EU is not about cherry-picking.

"We understand the EU wants to preserve its four freedoms, and to chart its own course," Mr Davis said. "That is not a project the UK will now be a part of, and so we will leave the single market and the institutions of the European Union."

But not everyone is positive about the path ahead for Britain.

Said Mr Marcel Fratzscher, president of Germany's DIW Economic Institute: "Theresa May's promise to turn Britain into a 'global trading nation' after Brexit is an illusion, just like Donald Trump's promise to make America great again with the help of protectionist measures."

British opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbin said on Sky News: "She has said 'leave the single market' but at the same time said she wants to have access to the single market. I am not sure how that is going to go down in Europe... She seems to be wanting to have her cake and eat it."

Dr Volker Treier of Germany's Chamber of Commerce and Industry said that there will "be less investment from German companies in Britain" as the United Kingdom becomes less important as an export destination.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE


What Britain wants

Prime Minister Theresa May outlined the principles she will take with her to the negotiating table for Britain's exit from the European Union:

NOT PART OF SINGLE MARKET

Instead, Britain will seek "the greatest possible access" to the market through a new and comprehensive free trade agreement. British companies should have the maximum freedom to trade with and operate within European markets, and vice versa.

But the free trade agreement may take in elements of current single-market arrangements, such as on the export of cars, or the freedom to provide financial services across national borders.

 
 
 

NOT SEEKING PARTIAL OR ASSOCIATE EU MEMBERSHIP

Instead, it will seek a "new and equal" partnership rather than adopt a model in use by other countries.

IT WILL NO LONGER CONTRIBUTE LARGE SUMS TO EU BUDGET

As Britain exits the single market, it is not required to contribute sums to the EU. But it will still want to participate in certain European programmes and, if so, will need to make appropriate contributions.

OPTIONS FOR CUSTOMS UNION

While Mrs May said she wants Britain to be able to negotiate its own trade agreements and have tariff-free trade with Europe, the Customs Union prevents Britain from striking its own trade deals with other countries. She would like a Customs agreement with the EU. This could mean having a new Customs agreement, becoming an associate member of the Customs Union, or remaining a signatory to some elements of it. She said she is keeping an open mind about how to achieve this.

CONTROLLING IMMIGRATION

Brexit must mean controlling the number of immigrants from the EU, said Mrs May. But Britain will continue to attract the brightest and the best to work or study in Britain, she said, although the process must be handled well so that the immigration system services the national interest.

But she promised to safeguard the rights of EU citizens who are already living in Britain, and the rights of British nationals in other member states, as early as possible.

BRITAIN TO CONVERT EU LAW

This allows for certainty as Britain leaves the EU, said Mrs May. "The same rules and laws will apply on the day after Brexit as they did before," she said.

PARLIAMENT TO VOTE ON FINAL BREXIT DEAL

The final deal agreed between Britain and the EU will be put to a vote in both Houses of Parliament before it comes into force.

EUROPEAN COURT OF JUSTICE NO LONGER HAS JURISDICTION

Britain will take back control of its laws, and put an end to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in Britain.

BRITAIN TO MAINTAIN COMMON TRAVEL AREA WITH IRELAND

This land border with the EU will be a priority, said Mrs May. "The family ties and bonds of affection that unite our two countries mean that there will always be a special relationship between us," said Mrs May, who vowed to maintain the Common Travel Area with Ireland, while protecting the integrity of her country's immigration system.

BRITISH TROOPS IN EASTERN EUROPE

British troops based in European countries such as Estonia, Poland and Romania will continue to carry out their duties in a time of rising concerns about European security.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 18, 2017, with the headline 'Some 'clarity' after speech, but others not so positive'. Print Edition | Subscribe