Theresa May signals Brexit no-deal not 'the end of world'

British Prime Minister Theresa May reiterated that she still thinks Britain will be able to get a "good deal".
British Prime Minister Theresa May reiterated that she still thinks Britain will be able to get a "good deal". PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (BLOOMBERG, REUTERS) - The United Kingdom can still make a success of Brexit if it tumbles out of the European Union without a deal, Prime Minister Theresa May said, striking an upbeat tone as the clock ticks down to Britain's departure from the bloc.

Speaking to reporters on the plane as she headed to South Africa on a five-day visit to three African nations, Mrs May twice cited World Trade Organisation chief Roberto Azevedo, who told BBC radio last week that trade wasn't going to stop if Britain and the EU failed to strike a deal.

The UK last week published 24 documents outlining preparations for such a scenario.

"He said about a no-deal situation that it would not be a walk in the park, but it wouldn't be the end of the world," Mrs May said, referring to Mr Azevedo.

"I've said right from the beginning that no deal is better than a bad deal."

As Britain's scheduled departure from the EU on March 29, 2019, draws closer, the government is trying to show that it is prepared for all eventualities.

Last week's papers, the first of about 80 that ministers intend to publish, advised pharmaceutical companies to stockpile medicines, exporters to prepare for more red tape and consumers to brace for higher prices on EU goods.

The government is "putting in place the preparations such that if we're in that situation, we can make a success of it", Mrs May said, reiterating that she still thinks Britain will be able to get a "good deal".

The premier's remarks contrast with the gloomy outlook from Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond, who in a letter last week to Mr Nicky Morgan, the chairman of Parliament's Treasury Select Committee, said that failure to secure a deal would cut 7.7 per cent off projected economic output and add £80 billion (S$140 billion) to government borrowing by 2033.

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe on Monday (Aug 27) asked his ministers to prepare contingency measures in case of a no-deal Brexit.


In a government meeting convened to discuss this, Mr Philippe "tasked ministers to prepare contingency measures that would be necessary... to mitigate the difficulties linked with this unprecedented challenge", a statement said.

Measures would include facilitating the stay of British citizens currently living in France and ensuring smooth border controls, it said. The government will ask parliament in the coming weeks to allow it to adopt them by decree.

Even as officials increasingly say an exit deal may not be finalised until at least November, Mrs May said she's still working to get it done by October, with the UK exiting the bloc on March 29 as planned.

Asked whether she'll have to reach a compromise with the EU in order to secure the single-market access she seeks for goods but not services, the British premier signalled that there are some issues on which she won't budge.

"There are certain things that I've made clear are non-negotiable," she said. "An end to free movement is one of them."

Asked if Britain's immigration system will look markedly different after Brexit, she replied that "by definition it will, because free movement will end".

Mrs May will meet with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa in Cape Town on Tuesday, before meeting her Nigerian and Kenyan counterparts in Abuja and Nairobi on Wednesday and Thursday.

The UK aims to become the top foreign investor in Africa by 2022, Mrs May will say on Tuesday, according to extracts of the speech e-mailed in advance by her office.

United Nations figures put annual UK investment in the continent at US$55 billion (S$75 billion) - ahead of France's US$49 billion and second to the US on US$57 billion.

Mrs May will pledge in her speech to ensure Britain's aid budget serves the national interest as well as fight poverty, and help the private sector "to take root'' in Africa's growing economies, according to extracts of the speech e-mailed in advance by her office.

She'll say that working with African nations to boost investment, create jobs and deliver stability will help stem migration flows to Europe.