Theresa May to say UK is ‘prepared to accept hard Brexit’

Forthcoming speech by prime minister believed to suggest that UK must be willing to leave single market to regain control of its borders

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 28:  British Prime Minister Theresa May (R) during a joint press conference with Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo at 10 Downing Street  on November 28, 2016 in London, England. Mrs Szydlo is expected to discuss a number of issues with Mrs May including the future of Polish citizens after Brexit.  (Photo by Peter Nicholls - WPA Pool /Getty Images)

Theresa May is to announce that the government is prepared to accept a clean break with the EU in its negotiations for the UK’s departure, according to reports.

In a speech to be delivered on Tuesday, the prime minister is said to be preparing to make clear that she is willing to sacrifice the UK’s membership of the single market and customs union in order to bring an end to freedom of movement.

An article in the Sunday Telegraph cites “sources familiar with the prime minister’s thinking” as saying that May is seeking to appease the Eurosceptic wing of her party by contemplating a “hard”, or “clean”, Brexit.

In the speech to an audience of diplomats at London’s Lancaster House May will hope to end months of speculation about her intentions by setting out her aims for Brexit. According to the Sunday Telegraph, she will say that the UK must:

  • be prepared to leave the EU customs union;
  • regain full control of its borders, even if that means losing access to the single market, and
  • cease to be subject to rulings by the European court of justice.

She will also use the address to appeal for unity after six months of bitter recriminations between pro- and anti-EU factions. She will plead for an end to insults, the Press Association reports, as well as the divisive terminology of “leavers” and “remainers”, and call on both sides to come together to make a successful future for Britain outside the EU.

May is expected to focus on building “common goals” – such as protecting and enhancing workers’ rights – in an attempt to create a consensus after months of acrimonious exchanges.

“One of the reasons that Britain’s democracy has been such a success for so many years is that the strength of our identity as one nation, the respect we show to one another as fellow citizens, and the importance we attach to our institutions means that when a vote has been held we all respect the result,” she is expected to say.

“The victors have the responsibility to act magnanimously. The losers have the responsibility to respect the legitimacy of the result. And the country comes together.

“Now we need to put an end to the division and the language associated with it – leaver and remainer and all the accompanying insults – and unite to make a success of Brexit and build a truly global Britain.”

Comments from David Davis offered further clues as to the government’s Brexit strategy. Writing in the Sunday Times, the Brexit secretary hinted that the UK might seek a transitional deal with the other 27 EU nations.

“We don’t want the EU to fail, we want it to prosper economically and politically, and we need to persuade our allies that a strong new partnership with the UK will help the EU to do that,” he wrote. “If it proves necessary, we have said that we will consider time for implementation of new arrangements.”

Pro-Remain Tory MP Nicky Morgan, sacked as education secretary by May in July, said the prime minister should put “maximum participation” in the single market at the heart of her negotiating strategy.

“The government will be doing a disservice to the country and to both leave and remain voters if it dogmatically pursues a hard, destructive Brexit where immigration control is the be all and end all, our economy is undermined, and people are left poorer,” she said.

The details of May’s speech have emerged the day after the EU’s chief negotiator offered the first hint of a compromise from Brussels to ensure that member states continue to have easy access to the City. According to unpublished minutes seen by the Guardian, Michel Barnier indicated that he wants the remaining 27 countries to have a “special relationship” with the financial markets of the City of London.

The paper said he told a private meeting of MEPs that work was needed to avoid financial instability once Britain left the bloc, according to a summary of the talks by the European Parliament. “Some very specific work has to be done in this area,” he said, according to the minutes. “There will be a special/specific relationship. There will need to be work outside of the negotiation box … in order to avoid financial instability.”

The disclosure will encourage pro-Brexit MPs who have long argued that the UK will have more leverage in the negotiations than some critics have allowed.

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