May aims for UK unity, one year to Brexit

British Prime Minister Theresa May meeting a parent and toddler group in Newcastle, north-east England, yesterday during a tour of the United Kingdom, 12 months before Britain leaves the European Union.
British Prime Minister Theresa May meeting a parent and toddler group in Newcastle, north-east England, yesterday during a tour of the United Kingdom, 12 months before Britain leaves the European Union.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

British leader sets off on frantic national tour to shore up support for EU exit strategy

LONDON • Prime Minister Theresa May jetted off on a frantic national tour yesterday as Britain starts the one-year countdown to Brexit, seeking UK unity as its EU departure looms.

Mrs May was visiting Scotland, England, Northern Ireland and Wales during her day-long tour, aiming to shore up support for the government's Brexit strategy, 12 months before Britain leaves the European Union on March 29 next year.

Brexit remains a fractious topic in Britain, with former prime minister Tony Blair leading a push for a second referendum as an escape door.

"Today, one year until the UK leaves the EU and begins to chart a new course in the world, I am visiting all four nations of the union to hear from people across our country what Brexit means to them," Mrs May said ahead of her trip.

After visiting a textile factory in Ayrshire, south-west Scotland, Mrs May travelled to Newcastle in north-east England and met a parent and toddler group.

She was later to stop for lunch with farmers near Belfast in Northern Ireland before meeting Welsh business owners in Barry, then returning to London in time for tea with a Polish group.

"I am determined that as we leave the EU, and in the years ahead, we will strengthen the bonds that unite us," Mrs May said.

"Having regained control of our laws, our borders and our money, and seized the opportunities provided by Brexit, the UK will thrive as a strong and united country that works for everyone, no matter whether you voted Leave or Remain."

In a seismic referendum on June 23, 2016, 52 per cent of voters in the United Kingdom opted for Britain to leave the EU. Most voters in England and Wales backed Brexit, while majorities in Scotland and Northern Ireland wanted the UK to stay in the EU.

One sticking point is the Irish border as Britain leaves the European single market and customs union. All sides in the Brexit talks want to avoid imposing checks at the frontier with the Republic of Ireland.

Mrs May has agreed to Brussels' plan to keep Northern Ireland in the customs union if no better solution is found.

However, the proposition is deemed unacceptable by the province's pro-British and pro-Brexit Democratic Unionist Party, which props up Mrs May's Conservative minority government in the UK Parliament.

Mr Blair, who was Britain's premier from 1997 to 2007, is a leading advocate for giving voters an opt-out. He argued that once the terms of its departure were known, voters should have the chance to choose whether they prefer that to EU membership.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 30, 2018, with the headline 'May aims for UK unity, one year to Brexit'. Print Edition | Subscribe